by Cathy Morgan
From the Editor: Goalball seems to be increasing in popularity with every passing year. President Maurer is even trying to find a way to build a goalball court at the National Center for the Blind because so many visitors have urged him to do so. The following article describes the sport and suggests why it is stirring up so much enthusiasm. Cathy Morgan is a senior journalism major at Utah State University.
All you can recognize are darkness and the reassurance of the tactile taped boundary lines that guide your feet and hands. You hear the jingle of the ball as it crashes into your teammate. You picture her swift movement from a stretched-out position on the court to jumping up and quickly throwing the ball. You shout encouragement and tap on the floor to help her get back into a defensive position. Your aim is to get the ball past the other team and score a goal. Playing this sport has not just taught you to strive for victory on the court, it is leading you to reach for other goals in life.
The sport of goalball was invented specifically for those who are not able to compete effectively in sports like baseball and basketball. Hanz Lorenzen and Sepp Reindle invented it in 1946 to help rehabilitate blinded war veterans. It was introduced into the Paralympics in 1976, and along with judo and beep baseball it is one of the most popular sports in the visually impaired community today.
The game’s concept is simple. The playing area is roughly the size of a basketball court. Raised taped lines on the floor show players where they should be so they can manage their positions. Three players, two wings and a center, control each side of the court. The goalball is about the size of a basketball. It is hard and rubbery with bells in its center so players can hear where it is on the court. Everyone on the court is blindfolded. The object of the game is to throw or roll the ball past the players on the other side to score a goal. Defensively you must throw your body down to block the ball from going into your own goal. The ball travels twenty to forty miles an hour, so the game is fast moving.
I got involved in the game when I was very young. It helped me build a close-knit group of friends on and off the court. As I grew older, I found that these friends accepted me as a teammate and as someone they could rely on for advice. It taught me early that, if you set goals and establish ways to reach them, you can accomplish just about anything by setting your mind to it and having the support you need.
Sometimes people take for granted that vision is necessary to accomplish anything. Low-vision children or those with no vision are sometimes told that there are things they will never be able to do. This attitude leads many blind people to become reclusive and unsocial, without any physical activity in their lives. Joma Leonard from Georgia commented that some kids have social acceptance problems, teens have a hard time being heard and being acknowledged as young adults, and adults are looking for respect.
Sachin Pavithran is a National Federation of the Blind chapter president who has recently started playing goalball. He commented that “there are a lot of roadblocks from families or even friends who think blind people aren’t capable. The result is that they have no faith in themselves.” Before Pavithran lost a lot of his vision, he was involved in soccer and cricket. He says he finds goalball fun, and it challenges him, which he likes.
Jalayne Engberg is a vision teacher as well as the coach for the Utah women’s goalball team. She says that she likes to introduce her students to sports because it helps them work as a team. She said, “Visually impaired students struggle with body awareness and space.” Leonard pointed out that younger kids open up more and deal with the issue of being social when they get involved with goalball. Engberg also said that coaching goalball has helped her realize that communication is always important. She teaches her students listening skills and emphasizes that paying attention to their surroundings helps on the court and also in getting around every day to places like a job, school, and even a simple trip to the grocery store.
Chris Boidy is a player from Illinois just beginning college. He said that sometimes it’s embarrassing having to rely on other people. For example, when he goes out for fast food, he can’t read the menu overhead, so he has to ask someone to read it to him. Even asking a professor to read a slip of paper with small print on it can be an embarrassing moment. Boidy said: “Playing goalball has taught me to take a leadership role; I am the go-to guy. You are relying not just on others, but on yourself as well. Having only three players on the court means there is no room for anyone to slack off.” When you are given the chance to be the leader or are given another specific role, these things make you more aggressive in everyday situations. Even though Boidy gets flustered about things involving his vision, he still asks for help when he needs it. He is able to voice his opinion and know he will be given respect for his thoughts just like everyone else.
Daryl Walker, a Paralympic player from Florida, mentioned that there is always something out there for everyone. Walker said that “playing a team sport helps kids realize that, yes, they do have a disability and that’s OK.” By playing a sport like goalball, you are saying that without saying it in so many words. Walker said that sometimes you can be or may feel like a liability because of your lack of vision, whether it’s not being able to catch a ball or not seeing someone whom you run into on the court or field. Pavithran said, “Even when I get hit by the ball and it hurts, I still have a good time.” I would like to add that, when I was younger, I had these same fears, but when I got involved in goalball and other blind sports at youth camps, these fears went away.
You should not let blindness limit what you can do. I think of it simply as a speed bump. Getting yourself involved in adaptive sports like goalball can help you learn how to strive for goals and can give you momentum in life, regardless of the level you achieve. Whether you are aiming to make the USA team or you just want to make it a new hobby, you can take something away from it. You will open a network of new friends, and you get to travel to new places. Don’t let others tell you what you can and cannot do.