The 2018 World Wheelchair Basketball Championships are a chance for British Wheelchair Basketball to assess its position on the world stage – the top 16 men and 12 women’s teams competing for the world title in Hamburg, Germany.
With just a couple a years until Tokyo 2020, the Championships are an important milestone for both squads in the build up to the next Paralympic Games.
Ahead of the Championships we spoke with Men’s captain Phil Pratt, Women’s co-captain Helen Freeman, Gregg Warburton and Siobhán Fitzpatrick to get an insight on the team’s preparations, expectations and the togetherness of the squad.
Q. How have the team’s preparations gone over the last year?
Gregg Warburton: Over the last year preparation has been as good as I’ve ever been part of. With many of our squad competing in some of the best leagues in Europe and the rest of the team along with myself being based in the UK in Sheffield. We meet up many times throughout the year for intensive training camps and during that time we’ve just been constantly improving.
Phil Pratt: The team’s preparation has been as good as I’ve ever seen it be. We’ve been training at a new world-class facility at the EIS Sheffield. We’re going into the worlds undefeated in all of our warm up games which gives us a lot of belief and momentum is always a great thing to have leading up to a tournament.
Siobhán Fitzpatrick: The team made a big move up north to the amazing EIS facilities at Sheffield. This has allowed the team to access all the necessary services required to compete at an elite level on a daily basis. The team have been able to train daily and travel the world competing against the world’s best to ensure we are the best prepared we can be. Although, some tournaments haven’t gone to plan it’s allowed to us regroup and hopefully truly perform on the World’s stage.
Helen Freeman: The team’s preparations have gone very well. We’ve made the move to be up at EIS Sheffield and being around greater professionalism has improved us a great deal.
Q. What makes this group of players and coaches so special, as there appears to be a real team spirit and togetherness in the squad?
Helen Freeman: Teamwork and work ethic, individual preparation and improvements that creates a positive environment, accountability/responsibility creates respect, continual improvements, self and team belief, support for each other, sense of humour, fun and enjoyment
Gregg Warburton: I think what makes this team so special is that in terms of talent and potential we’re right up there amongst the world’s best but the squad has never been able to just go that extra step and win a gold at a major. However with the direction that the programme is going in at the moment, along with very promising new leadership under our captain Phil Pratt and the way everyone’s bought into how we want to play. All these things have put us in a very strong position to be able to perform.
Phil Pratt: I think what makes this group so special, is that for the first time in my career, the full team has bought into the bigger picture. If that means someone having to sacrifice something for the benefit of the team, then they have. On paper, we have one of the strongest teams in the world and some of the best individual players in the world right now, if not ever. The coaches have been phenomenal in giving us belief and by constantly pushing us to be better.
Everyone always talks about their team mates being close together but our team are honestly all good friends. If we aren’t training together, then we’re eating together, gaming together or just around each other. We’ve got a really good balance of youth and experience. Even then, our so called ‘younger’ guys are world champions at junior level and bring a huge amount of experience.
Siobhán Fitzpatrick: This group of girls are definitely a special one! For me being able to play alongside your best friends just makes this job so much easier. A squad that are going through many challenges together whether that be trying to complete a degree, or entering the world of work makes stressful times a lot easier! The girls have really worked hard on our identity ensuring we follow our PRIDE values in everything we do through having this motto no matter if we are on a high or low this team stays united as one! Our two coaches definitely know how to work us hard but truly just want us to succeed like they believe we can do they’re behind us every step of the way!
What are your pre-tournament expectations for the team and yourself?
Gregg Warburton: For me everything we do at the minute is driven towards Tokyo 2020. Therefore in my opinion this is part of that process where we have a freedom going into this World Championships with a few debutants and new faces and a chance to go out there and continue from our summer form/prep which has been very positive and we know we can go up 1 or even 2 gears more and keep improving throughout the tournament.
Phil Pratt: I don’t have any individual goals for the tournament other than to be the best team mate and captain possible. Our goal as a team is to win the whole tournament. We feel that we are as good as any team in the world and if we can bring it on the day, we can beat anyone.
Siobhán Fitzpatrick: As an individual attending my first senior World championships I just want to enjoy the whole experience and perform to the best of my ability! I’m excited to be able to play for my country and have my family supporting in the crowds.
As a team we truly want to better our previous World Championship finish and hopefully gain a spot on that podium which will allow history to be made for the Women’s team! Ensure we play our best and play as a team!
Helen Freeman: We’re expecting some tough games but we believe we are capable of winning a medal. As an individual I’m focusing on being a good leader for the team to help us collectively deliver our best performance.
Image: British Wheelchair Basketball / Will Johnston