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The Sports Search: Goalball

Hand-eye coordination is great and all, but what about hand-ear coordination?

Seydanur Kaplan, right, of Turkey gathers the ball during the Women's Goalball Gold Medal Match against the U.S. at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. (Simon Bruty for OIS via AP)

Welcome back to the Sports Search! It’s time to look at a brand new sport you’ve never heard of. Here’s to hoping I’m able to have some success in my predictions, especially after the complexity of Chessboxing. Let’s do it!

Introduction

Hand-eye coordination is crucial in many sports. With the exception of sports like soccer, where your foot plays a more important role, the ability to see the ball and send a signal to your hand, telling it exactly where and when the ball is coming to you, is necessary for success. Most professional athletes need this skill to do whatever their sport requires. Whether that be making a diving catch in the endzone, smacking a ping pong ball as it zips past or belting a 100 mph fastball out of the park.

However, imagine you have to close your eyes and do all those things. It would be nearly impossible and frankly, pretty scary.

What if you didn’t have to imagine this. What if there was a sport where this was a requirement. A sport where your brain still had to send signals to help you make contact with a ball, but using a completely different sense.

Introducing… goalball!

Predictions

Before doing research and writing the introduction above, I tried to guess what in the world could be going on in this sport. In all honesty, the name doesn’t give much away. I can think of a good amount of sports that use some sort of a goal, and even more that use a ball. Combining these two requirements helps narrow down the focus a little, but still leaves me with a very vague picture.

Now, before going any further with my questioning, I think it is important to recognize the almost lazy naming of most of the popular sports in the world. Foot-ball. Basket-ball. Base-ball. Come on people. We made it to the moon, split the atom and made an egg the most liked post on Instagram. We truly can do anything as a society! Yet these names were the best we could come up with? So, all things considered, it isn’t too surprising that this sport too has a generic name.

Other than my understanding of the words goal and ball, as well as my commentary on the flaws of sports names, I couldn’t guess much else about goalball. I am assuming, and praying, that it includes a ball and a goal because, you know, GOAL BALL (although few feet are used in football, but whatever). In terms of how to win, I’ve got to go with the safe route and assume that whatever team scores the most goals by the end of the allotted time wins. I swear, if this sport pulls a golf on all of us and decides the lowest score wins, I might just throw a fit.

Yeah... I’ve got nothing else, but can you really blame me? Let’s find out more.

The Rules

What in the world…

Despite the name doing absolutely no justice to what the sport actually is, this has to be one of the coolest sports I have ever seen. Goalball is a team sport played by the visually impaired which is defined as anyone who has a decreased ability to see that cannot be fixed through usual means — such as glasses. In Goalball, all athletes, regardless of their vision, are blindfolded prior to the start of the game.

Goalball is played on a volleyball-sized court with two goals on either side, spanning the width of the court (about thirty feet). The court is divided into six even sections. The area in front of each team’s goal is their “team area.” Beyond that is each team’s “landing zone.” Finally, the middle two sections make up the “neutral zone.” When an attempt is made at goal, the ball must hit each section of the court in order to be legal.

Each team is composed of three players, with games consisting of twelve-minute halves, a three-minute half-time and two three-minute periods of golden goal overtime if necessary. Teams take turns rolling or bouncing the ball down the court in an attempt to get it past the other team and score. Players can choose to release the ball however they like, whether that be with some spin, a little bounce or just pure power. One player from Brazil, Ana-Carolina Duarte, has a distinctive throwing style where she fires the ball backwards through her legs.

In order for the player throwing the ball to know where they are in relation to the court they will generally use tactile lines, their own crossbar and noise from other teammates to orient themselves. A skill that takes incredible focus and practice.

In terms of defense, players will stagger themselves across their area. As they hear the ball coming, they use sound to judge the position and movement of the ball in order to use their bodies to prevent it from going in the goal. I don’t know about you, but that sounds terrifying. You could throw a ball at me with my eyes open and I would still dive for cover. Imagine not being able to see the ball coming. I’ve got to give them a lot of credit.

Finally, an uncommon feature of this sport is that silence is required. From the time the ref calls for quiet, to the time the point is over, fans and players alike must remain quiet. Players can even be penalized for making too much noise. Better stay home if you have a cough on game day.

History

This sport is not new to the world stage. Created in Europe in 1946 by Hans Lorenzen and Sepp Reindle, goalball was originally intended to help with the rehabilitation process of visually impaired World War II veterans. However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it became a competitive sport. Over the next few decades it grew in popularity, eventually being introduced as a Paralympic Sport in 1976.

Two years later, the first Goalball World Championship was held in Austria. Following the success of the sport, the IBSA (International Blind Sports Association) created the World Goalball Association in 2011. Currently, there are 81 nations that compete in the association.

Most recently, goalball was an event at the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo. In the men’s event, Brazil took gold, while China brought home silver and Lithuania won bronze. As for the women, Turkey stood atop the podium, followed by the United States and Japan.

As I can only imagine, all of you are simply dying to start watching this sport as soon as possible. You will be ecstatic to know that games and tournaments are year-round. The Goalball World Championships is just around the corner; coming in July 2022. Brazil’s men and Russia’s women look to retain their championship title from 2018, but strong teams such as the United States, Turkey and Lithuania will attempt to knock off the reigning world champions. Mark your calendars!

Conclusion

If I’ve learned anything from this sport, it’s that a name is the beginning to a world of possibilities.

The name goalball, truthfully, doesn’t incite excitement or intrigue into my mind. Before learning more about the sport, I probably would have clicked past it if it ever came up while channel surfing. However, what I’ve found is that inside the name is a sport that is exciting and intriguing.

Goalball is a true testament, both literally and figuratively, to the fact that sports are not all about the visual and the spectacle. They are rooted in passion and the joy that comes with celebrating alongside a team after a championship victory, or having support around you after a gut-wrenching defeat. That’s what really matters.

Resilience, determination and love for sports. You don’t need vision to see those things. They come from within, and these athletes and this sport couldn’t represent that better.

The Sports Search typically runs Fridays.