Five reasons why people fall in love with goalball

 
Over the past 6 months we’ve spoken to some of the biggest names in Goalball in the UK, Europe and USA, from star players like Amanda Dennis to top level coaches such as Jake Czechowski.

One thing that they’ve all commented on is the deep and unique affection for the sport that many players feel.

Here are five reasons why people fall in love with goalball and why it proves so addictive for those taking part.

 

#1  Totally unique and always evolving

Goalball is the only parasport designed specifically for blind and visually impaired people and the only sport that doesn’t have a sighted equivalent.
Antonia Bunyan of Team GB agrees “there’s not an able bodied version of it. And I think that’s pretty awesome.”

Tyler Merren, captain of the US men’s team takes this idea a step further. He told us, “I’m a competitive guy, I want to train hard, I want to push my limits. And one of those limits that I just can’t control is my vision. I can try to make myself faster, I can try to make myself stronger and more agile, more flexible.

So goalball is brilliant, because the thing that limits me in some other areas of my life (my vision) doesn’t limit me at all on the court, it’s just part of the game. So I think that people fall in love with it, because they can step on the court and set aside that constant challenge and limitation and just say this is I’m just being now I’m just an athlete, I’m just who I am.”

Goalball is a relatively new sport but with an excellent back story. Its growth out of the ashes of war and links to the rehabilitation of injured soldiers gives it an added draw.

“It’s got a great origin story, you know, obviously, the origin coming in the form of a rehabilitation activity for veterans who had sustained vision loss in World War Two. That gives it a real status among the community, it is a sport that they feel uniquely attached to.” says USA women’s coach Jake Czechowski.

The game of goalball has developed massively since its inception, in terms of the rules, tactics, speed and sheer physicality of the game.

US star Amanda Dennis believes this is why people keep coming back for more,  “In goalball everything’s always changing, nothing stays the same. In some other sports, like American football or basketball, the game is kind of set…[but] Nobody has ever won a Paralympics twice in goalball. And I think that’s really appealing. The game is always innovating to push other people forward. And it pushes you forward to.”

 

#2 The goalball family

Anyone who’s spent time on social media will know that #goalballfamily is the hash used by many players, clubs and fans of the sport.

There’s a good reason for this, the whole sport feels like one giant extended family.

Amanda Dennis told us “It’s a community that you come into, and you’re always welcomed. This is a lot different than anything else that I’ve ever experienced. So I think that’s why it brings people in. I didn’t know any visually impaired people before I played goalball. And I was like, wow, there are other people, who are going through the same things that I’m going through. And I think that that is part of it.

Kathryn Fielding of Goalball UK says that the comradery is more than just words. “There’s not many sports where you’ll see a player from an opposition team go sit on the bench of another team to help them out. And they’ll share coaching tips, and everyone’s kind of in it together. We’re competitive, but equally, everyone cares about each other, both on and off the court.

Antonia concurs “We’re a global family. there’s no words really to describe how special that environment is. And when you experience it, I think that’s what really sort of puts it over the edge of other sports.

 

#3 A fantastic opportunity to play a team sport

With a good network of clubs around the world goalball is more easily accessible than other VI sports.

There is good opportunity to participate. And I think the fact that it is a sport designed specifically for blind and partially sighted people, and it means that it’s probably not quite as much anxiety about it for blind or partially sighted people. It’s not reverse integration.” says Kathryn Fielding.

Jake Czekowski also feels like this open participation is a vital aspect of the sports appeal. “The ability to participate in athletics, is going to provide a direct result into day to day life, relationships, personal relationships, job related relationships, education, all of those things can be positively impacted through sport. And that’s something that we don’t take lightly. Because in the world of adaptive sports, unfortunately, there may not be as many opportunities as there would be for an individual who participates in traditional education, or in traditional sport. So the ability to provide that is a huge bonus.”

Perhaps Amanda best summed it up when she said, “goalball is a sport that grabs you because it brings you in on so many levels. Not only are you able to now play a team sport before with your visual impairment, but you’re able to meet other like minded people that you probably didn’t know.

 

#4 A tough elite sport

There is of course also the competitive element. It’s a tough elite sport that requires hours of dedication to master and even longer to build and maintain the levels of fitness and conditioning needed to play at the highest levels.

Jake explained that “When I saw the USA women’s national team train it blew my doors off. I was absolutely enamoured. I wanted to know more about the sport and I really became fond of it immediately. What I loved about it was the pure athleticism, the strategy, the excitement of the game itself. It is a physical, brutal, high paced, intense sport.”

Tyler Merren captain of the US men’s team agrees, “it may not be as complex or flashy as basketball or football where you’ve got quite a few more players and a lot more motion on the court. But the basic concept of it is just so much fun. And it’s fast and it’s intense.”

 

#5 A great sport for fans

Goalball is also a great live sport for spectators.

It draws you in because of the excitement.” Jake told us, “I think one of the wonderful pieces from the spectator side, which is very, very unique, is goalball is an auditory sport.

During actual gameplay, the athletes are the only ones speaking, the coaches on the sidelines, and the fans have to be silent during play, and the anticipation that builds, watching this amazing action going on, yet not being able to cheer to sing to chant until after a stoppage, it creates this electricity in the gym, that it’s really hard to replicate. And I think that’s a huge draw for fans.”

Tyler believes that part of its attraction comes from demonstrating the art of the possible. “Blindness is very scary to a lot of people. So I think that people love the sport of goalball because they don’t see fear. They don’t see a bunch of people who are down and disabled. They see athletes, they see fighters, they see people who are ready to to push their limits. And goalball is a beautiful representation of that. And so, aside from the fact that it’s just fun and exciting and fast, I think people appreciate the spirit of the game of goalball.


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