Hockey is the fore-runner of many different versions of the sport, and one that is hitting the headlines at the moment is sledge hockey at the Paralympics. With the USA facing Russia in the men's final, the ice rink will once again be the star attraction.
Like its able-bodied cousin ice-hockey, sledge hockey is the big draw at the Paralympics, due largely to its fast-paced and competitive nature. It made its debut at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Games and is played by male and female athletes with a physical impairment in the lower part of the body.
At the Rabobank Hockey World Cup, yet another form of hockey will be attracting the crowds – wheelchair hockey. During the World Cup, several side events are being organised for players with physical and mental disabilities. One event targets people who are less physically able while a second will focus on people with mental disabilities. Two tournaments are also being organised for wheelchair players – one for electric and one for manual wheelchair users.
The Netherlands has played a leading role in the development of wheelchair hockey. It has more wheelchair teams than any other country and two international squads who take part in European and World championships. 'The Dutch approach is extremely professional," says Marjan de Ridder, assistant national coach and manager of the manual wheelchair team. The sport comes under the umbrella of the Dutch national hockey association KNHB and that ensures the teams can profit from the organisation’s know-how."
"Wheelchair hockey gets all the facilities it needs from the KNHB," Marjan de Ridder says. "A shadow team of talents train along side the national teams so they can step in if someone can’t play. I have a hockey background myself and I can pass on everything I know to the wheelchair players. The KNHB has also been involved in setting up a nationwide competition for disabled players of all types, which means we can stimulate them to keep moving. Disabled hockey is developing as a sport and there are all sorts of initiatives underway."
The assistant coach says her players are driven to do their best. "Whether you are able-bodied or disabled you need the right mentality to get to the top,’ she says. ‘The most important thing is to have the right attitude. That means you have to watch what you eat, keep fit and work on your self. My job and that of the other trainers is to work together to improve the level of play."
De Ridder welcomes the inclusion of disabled hockey in the World Cup programme. The tournaments are being funded by the Dirk Kuyt Foundation, set up by football international Dirk Kuyt. ‘The foundation offers low threshold support so that hockey clubs can offer disabled hockey,’ she says. ‘The attention the foundation pays to disabled sport means we can reach other people with some form of handicap, which is very important."
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