This month we spoke with Tom Van Hove of ViGe Noordzee and captain of the Belgian national goalball team, getting his views on his career, training, the development of goalball and more.
Tom has been an international player since 2006, and represented Belgium at both the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic games. Despite his obvious disappointment that the 2020 games have been postponed he remains sanguine. “It’s a year longer I need to work for it” he jokes.
Listen to the full interview below, or carry on reading for a shortened text version.
Training in lockdown, and missing more than just the sport
With the Paralympics postponed and all competitive goalball on hold, we asked Tom about how he coped with lockdown.
But he’s in full agreement that the games needed to be put on hold. “It’s the best decision they made because the virus is is everywhere. It’s better that we get the virus to an acceptable level and then we can go back to normal life and normal competition.”
As for many athletes training in lockdown has been tough for Tom. “You need to start find a workout at home and you realise you’re not really equipped for it.”
Its a similar story for many elite athletes who found it difficult to keep up their training during the first weeks of lockdown. “Having no competition and nobody to practice with is not fun. Luckily I bought a cross trainer two months in advance but then then to find stuff like weights and other things was very difficult as everything was sold out.”
Tom is lucky in that he has elite athlete status and was allowed to use some regional gyms. However public transport was not running on normal levels during the first weeks of the crisis which made using these almost impossible for him at first but as lockdown has eased he’s been able to return, albeit slowly.
“I’ve now trained at a sports centre and it was really nice to to feel the weights and to have normal gym exercises.”
However life in the gym is a little different from before. “It was a strange feeling to be alone in a gym. You need to clean everything. So that’s that’s also a bit annoying, but much better than no gym.”
Full training with the Belgium team is due to start in August and to begin with this training is likely to focus on conditioning before they even pick up a ball.
But Tom has been missing more than just the sport, “you start missing it quite quickly and not just the sport but also the social thing. Everybody knows each other, it’s like a family, you start missing the people.” It’s a family he has been a part of since he was just 11 years old.
“We were six brothers at home and three have a visual disability. When we were 11 years old, a club from Bruges came to us and from then on we started participating at the training sessions and after the first year we started playing in the Torball Belgium league.”
From Torball to Goalball
At the age of 18 Tom moved from torball to goalball.
“It’s a sort of step up to goalball. It has some other things you need to get used to.”
Torball is played with a lighter ball and is much quicker, it’s more focussed on technical skills and less on pure strength. Tom says you could call it ‘goalball light’.
“I had the feeling you could really get good if you train harder for goalball. It’s more athletic than torball and you really can make the difference by training and by practicing a lot, it’s more athletic.”
And goalball is a Paralympic sport, while torball is not.
His early days in torball set him in good stead and he quickly rose through the goalball ranks to first represent his country in 2006.
“My first international was in 2006 in the Czech Republic (Euro B champs). I think I made some mistakes. So I wasn’t a big star, but you learn step by step.”
He didn’t make the Paralympic team for China but did for the 2012 games and has maintained his position ever since.
“It’s a long career, but I think with goalball you’re not at your best when you’re 20. You need to build up a lot of experience. You’re starting to get on your top, top level between 25 and 35.”
It is a technical and tactical game and Tom says there are many elements that teams and individuals need to work on, which lends itself to later development.
“It’s practice, practice, practice and trying new techniques or trying to throw your ball with a bit more bounce. You need to judge the height of the ball and the long ball lines and how to orientate yourself, get back to your spot in the beginning as a junior player. It looks so easy, but it’s takes lots of practicing and training exercises to do all that.”
And the most challenging part? “For some people it will be that you’re totally blindfolded. For me this isn’t difficult any more. For me it’s about keeping very focused. For example if you defend a split second too early or you’re still in movement when you’re defending the ball, you’re much more likely to lose a goal.”
Rewards for hard work
Tom’s dedication to the sport and hard work has had its rewards in recent times, the peak of which was a bronze medal at the world championships last year, which won them qualification to the Paralympics.
“It was our first medal on a world level for the Belgian team after the bronze medal in the European championships a year earlier. It’s an achievement and game I’ll never forget.”
And the key to that success? These years of experience and good coaching.
Coaching staff are integral to the game and players need to be very aware of the instructions from those on the sidelines.
“Coaching staff play a large part in helping the players on the pitch. I really like active coaching, giving quick updates, about how to throw, about what’s happening, they are our eyes, so they are part of the team. You need to have a good coaching to to get to a certain level.”
But that success was also because of the developments with the Belgian game.
“When I started we had talented players, but we didn’t always have all the good practices we have now, like post game analysis.”
Working with Goalfix, and the evolution of Goalball
And its not just coaching and preparation that’s improved, its also the equipment, everything from the ball to eyeshades have developed over the last few years.
Tom has worked with Goalfix help develop the latter.
“Cheating was getting a problem, more and more. And as a player that’s very frustrating when you see something happening and you can’t prove it. You can see the evolution of the eclipse eyeshades now, which has helped.”
This development has helped to get the game to the next level as the playing field has been levelled for all competitors, with the eyeshades ensuring that no-one can see.
So what’s the next step in the evolution of the sport?
“More professional coverage and broadcasting of live games. It’s getting better and better all the time, but like In the past, it was very difficult to get good quality streams of good commentary for outsiders to get into the sport. I think we need to show to the world that we are very high level sport.”
Our thanks to Tom for taking the time to speak with us. Join our email list (at the bottom of the page) or follow us on Twitter and don’t miss the next interview or article from Goalfix.
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