An Introduction to Goalball: How Touch & Sound Trump Sight!
Around 39 million people around the globe suffer from blindness. Some may think it’s impossible for someone without sight to play sports. After all, how can someone who can’t see, aim? While sight is no doubt an important sense, there are other senses which can allow a person to still enjoy sport without the typical need for hand-eye co-ordination.
The adaptiveness of people to challenging situations can be astonishing. A number of sports have been created or adjusted for those who can’t see. One of the most well known sports, goalball, was started in 1946 to help rehabilitate blind war veterans. It was included in the 1976 Paralympic Games, and has since then become one of the most popular sports on the schedule. Over 100 countries play goalball competitively.
The game consists of two teams of three players. The objective is to bowl the ball across the floor into the opposition’s net. With the ball approaching them at speeds as fast as 60 miles an hour, the defending players need lightening quick reactions in order to stop the ball crossing their line – without being able to see it.
To ensure everyone is on a level playing field, the rules of goalball require every player to wear eyeshades. This prevents providing people with residual vision an advantage. Although most sports require players to be able to see, goalball requires them to react based on the senses of touch and sound.
One of the first problems which had to be overcome, was how would a player know where they were on the court? Without this knowledge, they would have no sense of direction, making it extremely hard to attack and defend. To solve this, the court often has string taped the floor (the technical term is tactile markings) to mark out the areas of the court. The players can touch the string to identify where they are on the court.
Another problem is how to play the ball when the players can’t see it. Without this ability, they can’t score or defend. For that reason, the ball contains bells inside it. The players can hear the sound of the bells inside the ball, which they use to locate it. They can then use their knowledge of the ball location and their position on the court to attack and defend.
With ball speeds reaching 60 miles an hour, and dozens of shots in each 12 minute half of goalball, it is extremely fast-paced. The need for lightening-quick reactions based on touch and sound means that sighted people are at a disadvantage, as they are not used to relying so heavily on their other senses.
Jon likes to write about sport for Lenstore, a leading store which sells contact lenses online in the UK.
History of the Paralympics!