Goalball: A Paralympic sport for the visually impaired

May 28, 2019, 4:42 AM | Updated: 8:33 am

PHOENIX — People with disabilities are often used to conforming and adapting to the world around them, which means there is something particularly special when something is designed just for them.

Goalball is a Paralympic sport made for and by people who are visually impaired.

Dan Thuenen, a member of the Foundation for Blind Children goalball team, described the sport as a combination of soccer, hockey and dodgeball.

“Sometimes we say dodgeball in reverse because you’re kind of trying to get hit by the ball,” Theunen said. “Some of us like to say it’s kind of like bowling in reverse, where the people are the pins.”

Goalball is played in two teams of three players each. But what’s the goal of the game?

Played in an indoor court, each team tries to score as many points as they can over the course of two, 12-minute halves.

Before the game begins you can see and hear players walk around and snap to hear the sound bounce off the walls of the gym as they get their bearings.

Played on 60-foot by 30-foot surface, the court is outlined with a rope taped to the ground. The court is then marked every six feet or so to help the players orient themselves.

Teams will take turns rolling a rubber ball — about the size of a basketball — across the court, hoping to get it past the other team to score a goal.

You rarely see players standing upright in the game. The opposing team stretches their bodies horizontally across the court working to stop the ball.

But how do you block a ball you can’t see?

“The ball is hollow and has a bell inside,” Thuenen said. “So when you roll the ball, you determine its location by listening for the bell.”

There are also a few pieces of gear worth mentioning: elbow pads, knee pads and black-out goggles.

That’s right. A sport for the blind making sure everyone is 100% blind.

Many people who are visually impaired have some form of vision, whether it’s making out shapes, light or even a small tunnel vision. However, the eye shades become the great equalizer of the sport, allowing players of any level of sight to play.

Tanner Gers, another player on the Foundation for Blind Children Team, said this is part of what makes blind sports so great.

“We’re always looking for sighted participants to come and help out,” Gers said. “That’s the one interesting thing for sports for the blind is that it doesn’t matter if it’s track and field, or if it’s cycling, or if it’s beep baseball or goalball, we need sighted people to play games.”

This is part of what makes goalball a true community sport.

The camaraderie is also part of why one of the team’s most illustrious players, Fernando Tarazon said he loves the game.

“Being part of a team, getting the friendship together, playing, supporting each other,” he said. “The biggest thing is whenever you get scored on, they score on everybody. Whenever you score, the whole team is scoring. So the whole team experience is really good and you make really good friends.”

Tarazon has represented both the U.S. and Mexico in different adaptive sports including shot put, discus and goalball.

While team work is important, there’s also something to be said for the way goalball empowers the individual player.

“There’s no real words that I can attach to the emotions that I feel, the liberation that I feel, the freedom that I feel, the ability to express my body how I wish to,” Gers said. “There’s no real words that’s going to put that in a visual that someone who has never seen the game can appreciate.”

The team, as well as Foundation for Blind Children, is always looking for more sighted volunteers to help with their adaptive sports. If you want to learn more, click here.

Players seen in the above video include:

Carlos Castillo
Cesar Leal
Dan Thuenen
Fernando Tarazon
Marco Zepeda
Megan Duwyenie
Tanner Gers
West Lee
Kerry Gross (referee/time keeper)

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Goalball: A Paralympic sport for the visually impaired