On The Rise: Goalball

CITY SUBURBAN NEWS              May 4 – May 10 2016

On The Rise: Goalball


By David Block

Blind and sight impaired athletes often play familiar sports with modifications, but one sport developed with blindness in mind is taking hold around the world. In beep baseball, all players rely on the electronic bases to beep. In wrestling, blind athletes begin by holding onto their opponents’ hands; they must maintain contact throughout their matches. Goalball, however, requires no modifications, and visually impaired athletes across the globe – including at Philadelphia’s Overbook School for the Blind – are participating in the sport. Some of the sport’s growth is attributed to word of mouth, but clinics and demonstrations have attracted new players as well. Some families have now passed the sport to a second generation.

Mark Lucas, executive director of the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, said there were about 200 goalball players in the U.S. 15 years ago. “Now, about 500 play,” Lucas said.


John Potts is goalball secretary of the International Blind Sports Association and oversees goalball at the national level.

Potts said goalball is growing and is now played in more than a hundred countries. About 70 of these countries compete internationally. Some of this growth can be attributed to word of mouth, especially on social media. Potts said Facebook, Twitter, and other internet services are increasing the game’s popularity. “Now more people know about it,” Potts said.

“People are now streaming games.”


Playing Goalball


Goalball’s rules are nearly the same as they were when the sport developed in Austria after World War II to rehabilitate injured soldiers. Goalball is played indoors by two teams of three on a volleyball-sized court, each defending a wide net.

A player rolls the goalball, which is a partially deflated rubber ball with bells inside, toward the other team’s net. The three defenders dive onto the ground as they listen for the bells and try to block the goalball. If they stop it, they have 10 seconds to try to score by rolling the goalball back toward the other team’s net. There are two 12 minute periods and two fully sighted officials licensed with IBSA officiate.  

All players, blind and partially sighted, must wear opaque eyeshades, which puts all players on an equal footing. Goalball players, coaches, and officials are unpaid. According to Lucas, goalball became a faster game at the international level because it went from being played on regular gym floors to the synthetic surface called Tara Flex. “That’s like comparing Astro turf to grass,” Lucas said.


Spreading the Word


The International Blind Sports Association has worked to increase the sport’s popularity by hosting clinics and demonstrations around the world. Even now, Potts said, the IBSA plans to have goalball clinics targeting the African region. In March in Algeria, women goalball teams from Africa competed for the first time at the international level.

Also in March, the Mid-Atlantic Goalball Tournament took place at Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. About

50 goalball players from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., competed.

Karla Gilbride, 34, an attorney from Washington, D.C., who was born without vision, said she became interested in goalball after attending a demonstration seven years ago. She and her team traveled to Overbrook for the tournament. “I love goalball,” said Gilbride. “I play every chance I can get.”


The Next Generation


Scott Hogwood, 42, lost his vision 12 years ago to Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye disease that slowly degenerates the retina. He said he wanted to continue participating in team sports, and goalball fit the bill. Today, Hogwood plays and coaches the Blind Sports Organization’s men’s team, which practices at Overbrook. “I can still coach, even though I can’t see,” Hogwood said. “It comes down to knowing the game. I also have a sighted assistant.”

Hogwood said he knew he would one day lose his sight, and the same is true for his 17-year-old daughter, Dakota, because the disease is hereditary. As her vision faded, Scott Hogwood suggested his daughter play goalball.

Dakota Hogwood started playing a few months ago after she lost her last vestige of sight to RP. She said she likes the camaraderie of playing on a team. “I knew that this was going to happen one day,” Dakota Hogwood said, “so my father prepared me.”

Contact the Blind Sports Organization at www.blindsports.org to learn more about goalball.

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