Interest in goalball continues to grow, with the summer games in Tokyo having a big impact. The 2020 Paralympics helped to raise the profile the of sport and inspire many in the blind and VI community to get involved.
We speak to Jake Czechowski, Head Coach of the USA Women’s Goalball Team, and Keith Young, Head coach of the USA men’s global team to get some practical advice on setting up a new goalball team.
Listen to our extended interview with Jake and Keith, where we talk elite goalball, getting involved in goalball alongside advice on setting up your own team.
Below you can read extracts from the interview in our handy guide to setting up a goalball team.
What is goalball?
Goalball the world’s most popular team sport for the blind and visually impaired communities.
It’s one of the only sports that doesn’t have a sighted equivalent and that makes it very special for those that play it.
However fully sighted players can play domestically but for international IBSA-sanctioned tournaments the players must have a visual impairment classification of B1, B2, or B3 level.
To ensure a level playing field all players wear black-out masks, at the Tokyo Paralympics these were supplied by Goalfix.
Setting up a new goalball team
There are five key areas you’ll need to consider if setting up your own team:
Obviously the most important thing is to have enough players. There is three on the court at any one time but it’s important to have a decent size squad. This is so that you can have some players on standby in case of injury, or just give you the ability to change players during the game (due to fatigue or injury). It’s a very physically demanding sport so only having three players isn’t enough.
But outside the court you’ll also need people to help. This might include a coach, someone to help out with your club accounts (and fundraising – more on that below) and maybe someone to help arrange practice and venues. Having dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers is a must. Players can fulfil some of these roles as well.
Jake tells us, “you need folks who are going to be able to help out. Because it’s a heck of a lot more than just sending an email saying, okay, meet us here at this time in this place. Right, you may need help with transportation or whatever it is.”
Keith concurs, “you can’t have one person doing it, it will just it’ll, it’ll eat you up . So having someone like a parent, or a colleague to be able to go there who’s able to make these contacts for the team or for the players is important.“
The training and match venue is also important and there are a few things to think about:
1) indoors – it’s important that the court is indoors – outdoor pitches that could get slippery or noisy aren’t much use.
2) the flooring – its important to try and find a wooden or Terraflex (vynil) floor. Many older sports halls have concrete flooring which can be hard for players when they dive and are unsuitable.
3) the acoustics – some venues simply aren’t good enough due to poor acoustics. A big problem is often outside noise, maybe from other sports taking place at the same time, that make it impossible for players to hear the ball at critical moments. Quite please!
4) taping and string – you’ll need to find a venue that is happy with you adding string and tape to the floor. It’s good to be clear with the venue that you’ll need to do this and that you’ll be diving about on their floor. It’s good to be upfront with the venue about what they are letting themselves in for!
Finding a venue can be a tough ask.
Its also important to look outside of regular sports halls to find a venue.
“[it] is very, very difficult, because of the uniqueness of goalball. We need some sort of gym style floor to be able to use. But then we need somebody who is kind of enough to actually let us put athletic tape on that floor string under that tape. And then of course, the final piece is we need it to be a quiet venue.”
Jake continues, “My recommendation for that is the more unique and the more creative you can get, the better. It’s not just schools who have basketball or volleyball floors, community centres, churches, anywhere you can find. I’ve done goalball in racquetball courts, I mean, it’s anywhere, yoga studios.”
Perhaps the trickiest thing to find is funding.
The USABA can help with a small amount of seed funding but after that your own your own. That’s why it’s important to have dedicated volunteers around to help. It’s also why it’s important to engage stakeholders (more on that below) as they may be able to give you some funding or point you in the direction of other funders. They may also be able to help with payment in kind by donating old equipment or other resources.
Jake told us that, “there’s no way around it, you need a little bit of financial support. It creates a bit of a dilemma. But the fun part is there’s a lot of ways to find it.”
Jake suggest one avenue is Lions Clubs International.
“Lions Clubs are prevalent throughout everywhere in the United States. And they are an amazing organisation. I can never say enough about the support of the Lions Club. So finding your local Lions Clubs, local charity organisations that are willing to help.”
Big pots of money are hard to come by “So it really is a few dollars here a few dollars there to be able to help that support and you also get very resourceful, resourceful with equipment.” says Jake.
Funding is a must to help procure the equipment you’ll need as well as pay for the venue.
4. Goalball equipment
Whilst new players often use soft ‘blindfolds’ in training at competition level all players must wear total blackout eyeshades.
Goalfix provide the most advanced eyeshades in the world. Our 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 and 2020 Paralympic Games.
The goalball ball is made from heavyweight rubber and 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.
Specialist goals, 9m wide and 1.3m high, are needed.
Goalfix Sports is the Goalball UK recommended supplier of Goalball goals. We make three models of lightweight freestanding goals, all to IBSA international standards. They are designed to be highly portable and easy-to-assemble.
Court Markings (tape and string)
Whichever venue you use you are likely to need to create your own court markings.
This is done using string held down by tape.
Regulation string is 3mm thick but any kind of string, cord or thin plastic washing line can be used for informal sessions.
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.
Goalball UK advises to 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.
As you’ll probably know goalball is a very physically demanding sport, it invloves throwing yourself to the ground in front of a heavy ball. Therefore many players opt to use some type of protection.
This could include:
- Elbow & Knee Padding
- Hip Padding
- Chest Protection (for female players)
- Groin Protection (for male players)
- Head Protection: Goalfix supplies the halo360 Head Guard to protect against head impact in all blind contact sports.
As we said above contacting local stakeholders will be really important. This could help with funding and resources by also with other things.
There are many local groups delivering services for the blind and VI community everyday and they’ll be able to give you help, advice and some moral support.
Working with local groups or a local school, is a great way of attracting new players and additional support.
Local groups are usually happy to promote training sessions and call out for volunteers through their existing networks, this in turn will help you to build your own networks.
Jake says that contact local groups is imperative for recruitment.
“You have to have that base of recruitment. And there’s ways to do that. Whether it be contacting local school districts, and just providing information on Goal Ball and contact opportunities to service organisations who work with folks who are blind, visually impaired.”
The process of building a goalball team
In the UK to help with the process Goalball UK have a minimum framework. They work with new clubs to meet these requirements. This includes 15 points that teams need to achieve to help them thrive.
This includes everything from a minimum number of training sessions per year to ensuring they have proper safeguarding procedures in place.
It’s something that Tom Dobson from Goalball UK who works with people week in week out as part of his role says is really important. “As goalball UK part of the affiliation package, we will sit down with each club and take them through each of the points and see how can we support them through that.”
Tom describes the elements above as “different jigsaw pieces that we have to put together.”
Their hope is by putting this jigsaw together they can help the team thrive rather than just survive.
The process that Goalball UK follow aims to set teams up for the long term by embedding them in their community. This can take anything up to 3 years but Tom believes the methodical process is better than having a club fail or people getting burnt out and the process is usually around 1 year.
“It’s small steps, try not to run before you can walk. Take it slow and steady. And make sure that the four key ingredients are there. And then you can then start to develop further.”
Advice for a new team
The most important thing is perhaps to try and get involved.
“Just give it a go and try and speak to as many people as possible,” say Tom from Goalball UK.
It’s a similar message from Kevin Young. “You’ve got to be very resourceful, and try to get things done…. if there’s a will, there’s a way, if you have passion, and you really good communication, very aware, over time, you’ll be able to do that.”
Jake goes a step further. “When you’re first starting out, if you’re trying to establish a club, a couple things that are really important are consistency, and clarity. If you’re trying to establish some practice some routines, you have to be able to have some consistency… Its about consistency of opportunity.”
“When I when I say clarity, I mean, be honest with what you’re trying to do. Are we just trying to create a club to just get some exposure to the sport be recreational have some fun? Okay, beautiful. Are we trying to to create an elite training situation where we are there to win? That’s very important, because those two things are very different.”
“When I first started a club in Arizona, that was one of the things I would ask the players, okay, we’re going to these tournaments, are we going to have fun, to meet friends to play to be recreational to have a good time? Or are we actually trying to win this thing? Because if we are, my practices are going to look very different. And my expectations are going to be different. And so that’s a great way to build that trust between athletes and staff. And so those two things I think, are essential.”
“But just stick with it because it really is worth it to watch that growth process.”
Goalfix supplies a full range of top quality goalball equipment for players, teams and tournaments.
New to goalball? Here is an introduction to the sport of Goalball
Listen to more of our interviews with adaptive sports players and coaches below, including this interview with USA women’s Team co-captain Amanda Dennis.