Goalball is the most popular team sport in the world for the blind and visually impaired.
It is a fast, furious, and brilliant sport for improving spatial awareness, confidence and communication skills.
It is also a truly inclusive sport in that fully sighted players can also play domestically. For international IBSA-sanctioned tournaments the players must have a visual impairment classification of B1, B2, or B3 level, and to ensure a level playing field all players wear black-out masks.
Goalball is unique, as the only Paralympic sport that is not an adapted version of another sport. It was created in 1946 when Austrian Hanz Lorrenzen and German Sett Reindle developed the game as a way to help rehabilitate WWII veterans. It has been played throughout the world ever since, and is now played competitively by men and women in over 100 countries.
How goalball is played
Goalball is an indoor sport played by two teams. Teams are made up of six players, with three members playing at any one time.
It is played on a court that is 18m long and 9m wide, often on an indoor volleyball court without the central net. There is a goal at each end of the court, covering the entire 9m width of the court. The court is divided into six even sections. At either end, just in front of the goal, is the team area. Beyond that is each team’s landing zone. The middle two sections are collectively referred to as the neutral zone.
The court has tactile markings (string that is taped to the floor), to help the players determine where they are. The team area has six hash marks (three at the front, one on either side, and one on the goal line) to assist with player orientation.
Each match has two 12-minute halves, and the players change ends after the half-time break. The game only stops when ball goes out, a goal is scored or there is a foul.
To score a goal, a player must roll or bounce the ball down the length of the court, past the opposing defenders, and into the opponents’ goal. Opponents listen for the oncoming ball and attempt to block it with their bodies. Once they are able to stop the ball and take control of it, they become the offensive team.
The ball is about the size of a basketball, and contains internal bells so players are able to track its movement by its sound.
Only players and referees may talk or make noise during play. Coaches, teammates and spectators must remain silent so players can hear and locate the ball. Officials use verbal commands to inform players of what is happening during the game.
This ‘Why we love goalball!’ video from the USABA gives a great sense of the dynamic play. (All the players are wearing Eclipse eyeshades and using Goalfix lightweight goalball goals.)
The three standard positions in goalball are center, right wing, and left wing.
The center player is the player most responsible for defense, and this is normally their main focus. They are typically the defensive coordinator, as they can more accurately tell which opposing player has the ball due to being square to the opposing team.
The wings are normally the main offensive players, allowing the center player to reserve their energy for defense. Their main defensive responsibilities are keeping the ball out of either corner of the goal, though they also defend some towards the center.
In attack, the player with the ball will normally stand, find their position on the court by using the tactile lines, sounds from teammates, or the crossbar of their own goal, and then move forward, lean low, and roll the ball down the court, very much like a simple ten-pin bowling action. To reduce the sound and make it difficult for the opponents, players try to release the ball close to the floor. They can also make the ball quieter by spinning it. Players try bouncing, curving, and spinning the shots around the opponents.
The ball must hit in the player’s own landing zone, and anywhere in the neutral zone. So long as it hits each zone, the style of throw is entirely up to the player in question. Many players will take several strides and release the ball as close to their own high ball line as possible; leaning low to ensure a legal throw. Some players will throw after spinning around like a discuss thrower; transferring the momentum of the spin into additional velocity. Others are able to throw the ball so that it will bounce just once in each of the required zones. Most elite players are effective at using different types of throw.
Elite athletes demonstrate tremendous strength, speed and accuracy in their throws, and it’s amazing how subtly they’re able to put a spin on the ball to give it direction. At Paralympic Games level, the ball has been measured leaving the hand in excess of 37 mph (60 kph). Put it this way, I wouldn’t want to get hit by a goalball thrown by a professional!
In defense the objective is simply to keep the ball from getting past with whatever part of the body the player can get in front of it. Players stay on their hands and knees to defend their net.
Defending players stay within the team area, taking positions so as to avoid collisions. When they hear the other team throw the ball, they ‘lay out’, that is slide on their hips and stretch their arms above their heads and extend their legs in order to cover as much distance as possible.
Some players prefer to block the ball with their chests and absorb the impact. Others like to block with their legs so that the ball will roll up their bodies into their hands. Regardless of method, the players will always try to make themselves as long as possible to block the greatest area.
With experience players learn to tell where the ball is coming from and where it is going to and they have to respond by putting themselves between the ball and the goal they are defending.
When a member of the defensive team touches the ball, they have 10 seconds to throw it back before being penalized.
A goal is one point and is scored when the ball completely crosses the goal line. The team with the higher score at the end of regulation time is the winner.
If regulation results in a tie, two three-minute overtime periods are played, for a golden goal (first goal concludes the game). If no goal scored during overtime, penalty throws and sudden death penalty throws are taken. Scores can be an intense 1-0, or 10-11.
If a maximum goal difference of ten is reached, a ‘mercy’ is called and the leading team is declared the winner.
The video below provides a good introduction to goalball
Rules and Refereeing
The official rules for goalball can be found here on the IBSA website.
Unlike most games, Goalball can have more officials than players on the court.
Goalball requires two referees during each game, plus four goal-judges remain at the corners of the court to verify if the ball touches or crosses the line into goals. They also retrieve the ball when it goes out of bounds.
Infractions are generally punished by the loss of possession to the other team.
A penalty throw may be awarded for:
- Ten second penalty – A team takes more than ten seconds to throw the ball back over the center line.
- Delay of game – This can be caused by many different things. A coach reporting the wrong numbers for substitutions, a team not arriving in time for the coin toss that precedes the game, or too many or too few players taking the court.
- Illegal defense – This is called if a defender makes contact with the ball while no part of the body is touching the team area.
- Short ball – The ball fails to reach the opponent’s team area when thrown.
- High ball – The ball does not touch the thrower’s landing zone when thrown.
- Long ball – The ball does not touch the neutral zone when thrown.
- Eyeshades – Touching eyeshades without permission.
- Unsportsmanlike conduct – This can be a variety of things, from arguing with an official to pounding the floor and swearing.
- Noise – Unnecessary noise by the offensive team that prevents the defense from tracking the ball while the ball is travelling down the court.
- Illegal coaching – Coaching from the bench during play or after an official has said ‘Quiet please’ with intentions of continuing or starting play.
If there is a penalty, a single defending player has to defend the entire goal on their own for one throw. The player chosen is determined by the penalty. For instance, a high ball or illegal defence penalty is defended by the player who committed the penalty. On the other hand, an illegal coaching penalty is defended by a player chosen by the coach of the throwing team.
Coaching of players is only allowed after any whistled stoppage in play, or at half time.
Whilst soft ‘blindfolds’ can be used by players for informal sessions, all players in competition at any level must wear total blackout eyeshades.
At Goalfix we provide different models and sizes of eyeshades. The Goalfix Eclipse goalball eyeshade was the first to be endorsed by the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA). It was used by all Goalball teams competing at the 2016 Paralympic Games and were due to be used at the 2020 Paralympics.
The goalball ball is approximately 25cm in diameter, weighs 1.25 Kg (44oz) and is made from heavyweight rubber. It contains bells to allow players to hear it and track its movements.
The goalfix match ball has three metal bells inside which can be heard through eight holes in the rubber.
Softer and lighter goalballs are recommended for younger players and/or informal sessions.
Goals are 9m wide and 1.3 high.
Goalfix Sports makes three models of lightweight freestanding goals, all to IBSA international standards. Goalfix began as an adaptive sports company when we were asked to create the goals for 2010 Goalball World Championships, and designed a highly portable, easy-to-assemble alternative version in the form of the lightweight goalball goal.
Regulation string is 3mm but any kind of string, cord or thin plastic washing line can be used for informal sessions. Alternatively, gym mats or ‘throw down’ lines can be used.
The normal width of court marking tape is 50mm. It can be any colour. The key thing is that it provides a good contrast to the playing surface to enable referees to be able to clearly distinguish the lines. Test the tape first on the playing surface you are planning to use to make sure it does not bring up the varnish or the marked lines that are already there.
Elbow & Knee Padding: volleyball style knee and elbow pads are available from a number of sports suppliers.
Hip Padding: Goalkeeping shorts/trousers are available from a number of sports suppliers and additional padding can be added.
Chest Protection: chest protectors for women are available from a number of sports supplier.
Groin Protection: recommended for male players.
Head Protection: Goalfix supplies the halo360 Head Guard to protect against head impact in all blind contact sports.
Goalball in the USA
U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) serves as the national governing body for the sport of goalball, representing the sport as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and overseeing the growth and development of the sport. It also develops and selects the players to represent the U.S. in goalball at the Paralympic Games and other international competitions.
The United States is a top contender in goalball. The U.S. Women’s team has been described as the most successful program in the history of goalball while the men are number 1 overall in the men’s Paralympic medal count.
Since 1976, U.S. goalball teams have earned 13 Paralympic medals (Women: 2 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze; Men: 1 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze) and 11 World Championship titles (Women: 3 gold, 2 silver, 3 gold; Men: 1 gold, 0 silver, 2 bronze) with women making the podium every year but 1994 since 1978.
Most recently, the United States was the only nation to have both goalball teams medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The last time both U.S. Men’s and Women’s Goalball Teams made it to the Paralympic podium in the same Games was 2004.
Part of the success seen by the U.S. Men at the 2016 Paralympic Games is due to the establishment of a world-leading full-time resident program at the Turnstone Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Developing players were invited to apply for the first-ever goalball resident program in the U.S. Athletes were selected and moved to Fort Wayne in October 2015. The resident team trained together 5 days a week, lived together and ate together. The cohesion created a strong team dynamic which ultimately helped them win silver in Rio. Two years later, the resident program opened to female athletes with the first class of resident athletes arriving October 2017.
U.S. Men’s and Women’s teams both qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which will now take place in 2021.
Finding a Team
There are goalball teams and programs across the US, of varying ages and levels of intensity.
To find a program or team near you contact Jake Czechowski, the U.S. Women’s Goalball National Team Coach and Men’s Resident Team Coach. you can find his details and more information here on the USABA website.
International Goalball Tournaments
There are many regional tournaments including the Parapan American Games, European Championships, Asia / Pacific Championships and African Championships.
The two major global tournaments are the Paralympics and World Championships.
Goalball was a demonstration sport at the Heidelberg 1972 Paralympic Games and made its official Paralympic debut in 1976 when eight international men’s goalball teams competed for medals in Toronto, Canada. Women’s goalball made its Paralympic debut at the 1984 Paralympic Games in New York. It has been part of every Paralympic Games since.
Qualification for the games is decided by finishing positions in various global and regional tournaments: Goalball World Championships, an IBSA Goalball Paralympic Ranking Tournament, the Parapan American Games, European Championships, Asia / Pacific Championships and African Championships. The host country also qualifies.
The goal medal winners from each Paralympics:
- 1976 – Austria (men)
- 1980 – West Germany (men)
- 1984 – United States (men) / United States (women)
- 1988 – Yugoslavia (men) / Denmark (women)
- 1992 – Italy (men) / Finland (women)
- 1996 – Finland (men) / Germany (women)
- 2000 – Denmark (men) / Canada (women)
- 2004 – Denmark (men) / Canada (women)
- 2008 – China (men) / United States (women)
- 2012 – Finland (men) / Japan (women)
- 2016 – Lithuania (men) / Turkey (women)
The 2020 Paralympics is due to be held 24 August to 5 September 2021 and ten men’s and ten women’s teams have qualified, and demonstrate the global reach of the sport.
Men’s Qualifiers for 2020 – Japan, Algeria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Germany, Lithuania, Turkey, Ukraine, United States.
Women’s Qualifiers for 2020 – Japan, Algeria, Brazil, Canada, China, Israel, Lithuania, South Korea, Turkey, United States.
The International Blind Sport Federation (IBSA) governs goalball and holds the World Championships every four years, in between the Paralympic Games.
The first World Championships for goalball were held in Vocklamarck, Austria, in 1978, and thr first women’s tournament wash held at the next games in Indianapolis, USA. .
The goal medal winners from each Goalball World Championships:
- 1978 – Germany (men)
- 1982 – United States (men) / United States (women)
- 1986 – Yugoslavia (men) / United States (women)
- 1990 – Germany (men) / Denmark (women)
- 1994 – Finland (men) / Finland (women)
- 1998 – Slovenia (men) / Finland (women)
- 2002 – Sweden (men) / United States (women)
- 2006 – Lithuania (men) / Canada (women)
- 2010 – Lithuania (men) / China (women)
- 2014 – Brazil (men) / United States (women)
- 2018 – Brazil (men) / Russia (women)
In the 2018 championships, 16 men’s teams and 12 women’s teams competed.
There is also a Youth World Championships held every four years since 2005, with the next scheduled for 2023.
Find out more
You can find full videos of many international goaball matches here on YouTube.
Goalfix Sports USA is a specialist supplier of adaptive sports equipment. We supply a range of IBSA approved equipment for goalball.