John Wilson certainly hasn’t signed up for a quiet retirement. Since stepping down as Senior Fire Officer for Mid and West Wales, he seems to have thrown himself into a full time voluntary job as a bowls coach to the visually impaired.

He first began playing bowls in the late 1980s and was hooked on the game from that day on.

But it was seven years ago, he embarked on his coaching journey:

“I happened to be at the Swansea Indoor Bowls Club at the same time as the blind bowls club. I recognised that the players needed assistance both on and off the green. I soon discovered that I had a lot to offer in terms of safety but also technique. It just started from there.”

And just as he did when he was a fire officer, he responded to a call of duty to help others. His incredible generosity of time, effort and advice has created hundreds of opportunities. For if he’s not coaching locally in Ammanford or Swansea, he is travelling to other parts of Wales to share his wisdom to other clubs.

He is a man on a mission, helping bowls clubs right across Wales be more inclusive to visually impaired players.

“The work is definitely escalating. Word is spreading and an increasing number of clubs are getting in touch wanting to find out more and how they can be more inclusive to people with disabilities.

“If it’s something they enjoy, that’s the main thing. A gentleman told me last week that he hadn’t been out of the house for three years. Someone had persuaded him to come. He said it had changed his life. That makes it all worth it.”

John also provides one to one advice, especially to new players to help them get started. He even delivers specialist coaching to individual players in the Welsh squad.

With demand increasing, he can’t be everywhere at once so he’s enlisted and instructing others to coach:

“I’m careful who I select. They need to be able to relate well to individuals. I always tell people, “They’ve lost their sight, not their brains.” You have to be a good communicator because you are their eyes on the green. A string runs down the centre of the rink and you use that to explain which angle the bowl is at.”

Selflessly giving up any free time to coach others, it probably comes as no surprise that John is surprised by his shortlisting for the Wales Sports Awards:

“In all honesty, I’m shocked and humbled. How did I manage that? All I do is to go out and help people play bowls. It’s not rocket science.”

Wales Sport Awards 2015 John Wilson 27.10.15 ©Steve Pope - SPORTINGWALES

Wales Sport Awards 2015
John Wilson


“Basketball must be in my blood. I’ve played it on my feet, then on my wheels. I’ve been a player and now I coach,” says Caroline Matthews, a 42-year old wheelchair basketball coach from Sully.

And a successful coach at that. In 2015, she led the Cardiff Celts to become the British National League’s division two champions, securing promotion to division one.

“It was the sort of season that comes along only very rarely in a career. We won every game in the second division, ended up in the playoffs and won both our games to be promoted. It was a privilege to coach the team through that.”

But of course a stellar year doesn’t come easily and is nearly always the result of hard work:

“Last year, I qualified as a Grade 3 coach. I’m only the second person in the UK to achieve that. I learned so much on the course and I ploughed it all into my work with the Celts. I’m always learning. I find it very fulfilling.”

The former Paralympian, who played at the Athens and Beijing Games, describes her volunteering commitment as “at least another part time job, if not full time” which is no mean feat, given that she is a solicitor by day.

“I’m always either preparing for games, exploring new drills and theories, planning sessions, doing video analysis, making notes after a game or helping other coaches, basically, anything I can do to help my guys perform well.”

She also has international duties as the head coach of the Wales Under 23 Wheelchair Basketball Team. In 2015, she propelled them to victory in the annual Celtic Cup for the first time in the competition’s history. The team was unbeaten with four straight wins over Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Caroline’s work at the club though is not just about titles and trophies:

“The people involved in disability sport are often facing struggles in their lives. We often see players coming in who are timid and shy but, within a few weeks, they’re demanding the ball and enjoying all the banter. They develop all sorts of everyday skills and improve their confidence. We’re a real family.

“I’m humbled I’ve been nominated and thrilled to be shortlisted. I’m incredibly nervous because people will be looking at me as an individual rather than as part of a team. Saying that, this honour is the team’s. I worked really hard to ensure the season was a success but I couldn’t have done it without the talent around me.”

Wales Sport Awards 2015 Caroline Matthews 24.10.15 ©Steve Pope - SPORTINGWALES

Wales Sport Awards 2015
Caroline Matthews

Caroline Matthews Profile


“All of us want to feel significant like we’re somebody. If I can make someone feel like that, that’s the biggest achievement.”

Meet Angeline. Or Angie, as she is better known – a 52-year-old miracle worker from Bettws in Newport. And while she is likely to brush off the lofty title, she is certainly nothing less.

Angie has set up various sporting groups for people mainly from Black, Minority and Ethnic (BME) backgrounds. She’s also the founder of a local charity. She is completing her degree at the University of South Wales in Community Development and Cross-sector Collaboration.

On top of this, she works night shifts as a care worker:

“I do have to find the time to sit down,” says Angie. “There have been times when I’ve been exhausted. Sometimes, I come off a night shift to start studying. Then swimming club and choir practice. Did I mention I sing?”

She has a passion for helping those who don’t necessarily get the same opportunities to participate in sport as others. And, according to her nominee, she is impacting on the health of the local BME community, lowering blood pressure, helping with weight loss and increased self-esteem.

One of her biggest achievements has been the establishment of’ Njuzu Community Swimming Group. She has also assisted with the formation of’ a female only BME walking group.

“I help to take some of the stress away from some of these women. I deal with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. I get them exercising and meeting people. I work with women who have been abused by their husbands. Many of these ladies feel isolated; they don’t know anybody. But once they start taking their kids swimming or they come walking, they form friendships.”

With the help of Newport Live, Newport BME Sports Forum and Sport Wales, she has set up swimming lessons for children. After sourcing a grant to hire the pool and pay for an instructor, 14 children, aged between 5 and 12, now come to her sessions once a week:

“For one reason or another,” says Angie. “Swimming in school or at regular lessons hasn’t been enough. The mother of one girl said her daughter didn’t like going to lessons because she was the only black girl in her class. They feel more comfortable in this group.”

But she’s not stopping there. She is now in the process of qualifying as a coach so she can teach. “That way, we’ll only have to pay for pool hire. It will be less expensive for the families.

“I’ve always been the sort of person to be busy. I’ve always had the heart to help and to help people improve themselves.”

Angeline Tsyihane Profile


Gwilym Lewis is coach of Llanelli Warriors RFC. But this isn’t just any ordinary rugby club.

Tucked away in Burry Port you’ll discover a rugby club of mixed abilities that’s inspiring and serving as a blueprint for similar set ups across Europe. What’s different about this team is that it actively looks to involve players who have learning disabilities (or those who simply struggle to learn). Some players might have limited mobility too.

“I used to work in a day centre,” explains Gwilym, when asked how it all started. “They had a rugby team made up of staff and clients and they asked me to play. It wasn’t long before I was helping out with the coaching.

“As the team started to get more serious, we moved the club away from the social services setting and established it as a standalone club.

“There’s not often a night I’m not doing something for the club,” says Gwilym. That’s a pretty tall order considering his demanding occupation as a Drugs and Alcohol Care Worker for Carmarthenshire County Council. So why does he do it?

“I love the challenge of coaching, especially the mix of abilities, personalities and disabilities. It is tiring sometimes but it’s brilliant. I love seeing the boys socialising. Parents will say how the club has improved their child’s confidence. We took the team to see Scrum V being filmed the other day and a player said it had been the happiest day of his life. That makes all the hard work worth it.”

The Warriors currently have 25 players who have mental conditions and disabilities such as autism, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy.

“In Llanelli, everyone plays rugby and everyone talks about it. So it really helps with social integration. They have stories to tell other people of matches they’ve played, tackles they’ve made and trips they’ve been on. They can relate to others and hold their own in conversations.”

The club played 19 fixtures last season, the majority against ‘mainstream’ rugby sides and – although the philosophy is more about inclusion and experience than winning games – they notched up an impressive 11 victories.

Disabled players also assist in the running of the club, whether it’s coaching, officiating, a committee role or fundraising.

Having advised and helped set up integrated sides in England, Scotland and across Europe, Gwilym has been described as a pioneer – a term he quickly shrugs off, crediting any achievement to the club itself:

“I think the concept of the Warriors disabled and non-disabled players playing against and alongside each other is pioneering, especially in rugby as it’s a game of such physicality. It’s been a privilege to play a part in the journey of the Warriors and in setting up other mixed abilities team in other parts of the world.”

Wales Sport Awards 2015 Gwilym Lewis 25.10.15 ©Steve Pope - SPORTINGWALES

Wales Sport Awards 2015
Gwilym Lewis

Wales Sport Awards 2015 Gwilym Lewis 25.10.15 ©Steve Pope - SPORTINGWALES

Wales Sport Awards 2015
Gwilym Lewis


When the coach at her daughters’ netball club was forced to step down, Samantha and another parent decided to lend a hand on a temporary basis. That was eight years ago. Now, with a number of coaching courses under her belt – she is still at the helm. And the club is certainly going places.

So next time you moan about not having enough time, spare a thought for Samantha O’Callaghan. The 38-year-old is a care worker and has five children. Yet she still manages to spend ten hours a week coaching and organising Ebbw Vale Netball Club. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she is also the Welfare Officer for the Isllwyn Junior Football League.

“Until you sit down and actually count up the hours spent on the club, and I don’t just mean coaching, I’m talking about all the behind the scenes work like banking the money and planning the sessions – you don’t realise how much of your life you devote,” says Samantha.

“But it’s all worth it. I love seeing how the players progress and how their personalities shine through. Playing at the club gives them a social life outside school and it boosts their fitness and confidence too.”

In 2014, Samantha successfully led the merger of the then Ebbw Vale Junior Netball Club with the local senior side, after realising they were losing all their players to other clubs from the age of 15. She runs tri net teams, seven junior sides, three mixed and two senior teams. She is also a mentor to three coaches, 15 young leaders and five Young Ambassadors.

“When I started, we had about 11 girls. Now we’ve got 85 girls on the books aged between five and 15. And that’s not including the seniors, our total numbers are up around xx. Its been a long journey but all the hard work has paid off.”

She ropes in her family too with her eldest daughter Georgia coaching and Ffion helping with younger players.

The club does break over the school summer holidays. But there’s no rest for Samantha, that’s when the netball camps kick in at Ebbw Vale Sports Centre.

“It was such a shock to hear I was a finalist. I didn’t even know I was being nominated. I am quite nervous, I can go and coach the girls no problem at all. But to be shortlisted by a panel of experts and to attend a ceremony with so many amazing sports stars, well that’s a totally different kettle of fish!

Wales Sport Awards 2015 Samantha O'Callaghan 22.10.15 ©Steve Pope - SPORTINGWALES

Wales Sport Awards 2015
Samantha O’Callaghan