The secret to Thailand’s boccia brilliance

Country ready to thrill at Tokyo 2020 after stunning 2018

two Thai boccia players and their coach standing behind them and smiling with his arms around their shoulders Thailand boccia stars Worawut Saengampa (L) and Watcharaphon Vongsa (R) with coach Sumrit Kotsila © • Asian Paralympic Committee

Great things can be achieved with years of hard work and perseverance. The Thailand boccia team—a powerhouse in the Asian region boasting several world and Paralympic champions—are true testament to this.

Missing out on qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics was a wake-up call for the nation’s boccia fraternity, after which they regrouped to emerge in future years as one of the most dominant forces in the sport. And one of the people involved in the team’s transformation is their current coach Sumrit Kotsila.

As the Thailand boccia team signed off the year with yet another impressive show at the BISFed 2018 Dubai Boccia World Open, Kotsila recalled that the 2010 World Championships was the first international tournament that saw positive changes within the team and its players. Thailand finished as silver medallists in that tournament.

Decade in the making

A rigorous training regime, right technique and perseverance of the players over the years are what has helped Thailand maintain their top position not only in the Asian Championships but also at world level.

Several Thai stars have emerged in the last decade, giving the best in the business—Brazil, Slovakia and South Korea—a run for their money. Double Rio 2016 Paralympic double gold champion Watcharaphon Vongsa and silver medallist Worawut Saengampa, also the reigning world champion, have continued their dominance in the individual BC2 competitions. And in the BC1-BC2 Team events they have dominated with their veteran compatriot Pattaya Tadtong and Asian Para Games double gold medallist and World no. 2 Witsanu Huadpradit. At Rio 2016, Thailand picked up five medals including two golds to finish on top of the medals table, bettering one position than at London 2012 where they have also won two gold medals.

Pornchok Larpyen and Paweena Suksrithong have also made some news in the BC4 category while Boontep Pachdee is the latest newcomer the boccia powerhouse has unleased in the BC2 events. Pachdee beat compatriot and double world champion Saengampa at the recent Chinese Taipei Regional Open.

Technique the key

So, what makes the Thais so strong in this precision ball sport?

“I am very proud of the boys. They have worked very hard in the past few years. They train for six hours a day and six days per week. All these years we have focused on their hand movement, throwing pattern using bio mechanic technology, ball control ability, and muscle stretching which is [a] very important part of the process besides tactics,” Kotsila explained.

In fact, during the event in Dubai, the coach was seen doing stretching for his players, specifically for Saengampa, in between the short breaks after each round. The team went on win four gold medals and one bronze at the end of the competitions and finish atop, with Saengampa claiming one gold each in individual (BC2) and team (BC1/BC2) events.

Saengampa added that they are more than happy to have a coach in Kotsila whose strategies and ideas for competitions are very unique. “We are very comfortable with him (coach) and we believe in his ideas.”

Target Tokyo

The two-time world champion said his only focus now is on winning the gold at 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. “It has been my dream to win an individual Paralympic gold. I have the team gold and I am working hard for the individual glory,” the current world no. 1 said.

Kotsila is confident that the in-form Saengampa can pull off Paralympic gold following his incredible show in 2018. He said the team’s preparations for Tokyo 2020 has already began at the training centre in Suphan Buri in north Bangkok.

“I am confident that the boys can win three gold. We also have Paweena (Suksrithong), who can spring some surprise in Tokyo. She is another medal hope for us. We are hopeful of our best ever show at the 2020 Games.”