Interview with William Guenfissi: “We must think we are strong to become strong”

Current Head Coach of the Belgian national team, French native, William Guenfissi recently spoke with Rollt. to give some insight into the wheelchair basketball scene in Belgium. He talked to Rollt.’s Dylan Cummings in an exclusive in-depth interview.


How did you get involved within the coaching staff of the Belgian national team?

“I sent a message to Marc de Vos (then Head Coach) and he told me: ‘The team was stopped in 2012 but with Jacques Wilmus (Team Manager) and Juan Bernal (Player) we will restart the national team.’ After that, I had an appointment (in 2015) in Wetteren with Jacques, Marc and Juan. At the end of this meeting, they decided to give me a chance as the assistant coach. Two and a half years later, I was named as the head coach.”


What are some of your proudest achievements whilst coaching the team?

“My proudest achievement as assistant coach is winning the gold medal in European Championships Division C in 2017 in Brno, Czech Republic. Winning the championship meant we got promoted to Division B. My proudest achievement as head coach is rejuvenating the workforce. We now have two young players in the team (only 18-years-old.) My best memory with the national team was in Forest National (big sports hall in Belgium) after European Championships Division C in 2017. We were invited by our federation with Belgium Women’s team and the Belgium Men’s team (able-bodied teams) to see the game between Belgium and Spain. Just before the game, the three Belgian teams were on the court in front of Spain (Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Pau and Marc Gasol) and we sang our national anthem as one. It was wonderful, amazing, an incredible moment. Just perfect.”


What would you like to achieve going forward with the team?

“I would like to win the European Championships Division B to go up into A level. My ultimate goal would be to qualify for a Paralympic Games.”


Can you explain what the wheelchair basketball scene is like in Belgium, how has it developed over the years?

“In Belgium there is one short championship with six teams (1st Division) and one other championship less strong (2nd Division) with seven teams. The St. Vith Roller Bulls used to play in the German Bundesliga and in EuroLeague too. Now, all teams in Belgium play in the country. Plenty of Belgian players play outside of the country in France, Italy, Germany and USA.”


How have you been supporting your players during the pandemic?

“It’s difficult at the moment. No practices, no games. It’s hard for all competitors to stay at home. We are all looking forward to getting back on the court. I tried to stay connected with my players and my staff during the pandemic. We had to take a hard decision in September to refuse to go in Greece for European Championships Division B because it was too complicated to prepare correctly for the championship.”


Can you describe your style of coaching?

“This is a great question. My style of coaching is psychological. We must think we are strong to become strong. It’s important to say when a player did something wrong or made a mistake but it’s not enough. It’s important to tell them when they play well, to congratulate them. If they miss one shot, they saw it, they know it. The most important aspect is how I react. If they turn the ball over do I cry and lower my arms, or do I encourage them to fight and to try to get the ball back? I’m a very calm coach. I think it’s counter-productive to yell at a player and put them down, constantly remind them of their mistakes. If they miss a shot, tell them: ‘It’s nothing, the next one will be good.”


Who has influenced you the most as a coach?

“My U18 (able-bodied) coach, Patrick Picart also known as Titi. The best coach I ever had. I was young but he taught me the most important lessons in life. To try to understand your player, to listen to them and establish a connection with the team.”


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given by another coach?

“A good coach is a demanding coach. Philippe Ory (ex-head coach of French U18 men) A good coach is also and above all a fair coach.”


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to another player and/or team?

“Losing is nothing if you gave everything. When you lose ask yourself a question. Why did I lose? If you lost because the opponent was better than you then they earned the win. However, if you lost because you were worse than the opponent then it is a true loss for yourself and your team.”


If you got the chance to coach three other wheelchair basketball players and/or teams who would you choose and why?

“The first one that will be the GB team. It’s a great team and I love Great Britain. I had the chance one year to live and play in Leicester, England and it was a dream come true. The second one would be Vandoeuvre in France. My first wheelchair basketball team. Where it all began. It would be an opportunity to come full circle. The third one would be the French national team. My country. I’m French and I’ll stay that way all my life. I’m proud to be French and it would be an honour for me to coach my home country.”


What’s next for the Belgian national team once the world gets back to normal?

“The next purpose is to win the European Championship Division B. The short-term goal will be to move up to Division A and stay there. In the long-term, my dream would be to coach Belgium at a Paralympics Games.”


Thanks for your time William!


Rollt. would like to thank William Guenfissi for the interview.


William Guenfissi Profile:

Date of Birth: 26/08/1984 (aged 36)

Hometown: Val de Briey, Grand Est

Started playing: 2009 (wheelchair basketball)

Started coaching: 2012 (wheelchair basketball)

Classification: 4.5

Disability: Lower left leg palsy

Current Clubs:

_Chalon, FRA (2020-Present) (Player for the 1st team / Coach for the 2nd team)

_Belgian national team (2018-Present) (Head Coach)

Former clubs you have played for:

 _Vandoeuvre, FRA (2009-12, 2018-19)

_Red Dragons Saint-Avold, FRA (2012-13)

_Jarny, FRA (2013-14, 2015-16)

_Leicester Cobras, GBR (2014-15)

_Luxembourg City, GER (2016-18)

_Lannion, FRA (2019-20)

Former clubs you have coached:

_Red Dragons Saint-Avold, FRA (2012-13)

_Jarny, FRA (2013-14, 2015-16)

_Belgian national team (2015-18) (Assistant Coach)

Career Highlights:

 _2016 Regionalliga Mitte Championships – Gold (Luxembourg City)

_2017 Regionalliga Mitte Championships – Gold (Luxembourg City)

_2017 European Championships Division C – Brno, Czech Republic – Gold (BEL) (Coach)

_2018 French Federal Medal for Junior Development – Bronze (Coach)

_2019 French Nationale 2 Championships – Gold (Vandoeuvre)


Interview: Dylan Cummings | Photo: Christophe Dury

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