Goalball

Think quick. Move fast. Play hard.

That's the qualities you'll have to have if you want to become a first-class goalball player. Goalball is a quick-paced, sometimes bruising, but always exciting sport that's catching on with blind, visually impaired and sighted players around the world. If you like fun, fast-action and making friends, there's a good chance goalball will catch on with you.

Goalball has been a fixture at the Paralympics since the 1976 games in Toronto. It has its own governing body: The International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA). It also has a dedicated group of players and fans: By the IBSA'S best estimate, goalball is played in more than 85 countries worldwide.

So what's Goalball got going for it that makes it better than your favorite computer game? Plenty.

Goalball is Easy to Learn: Goalball is a contest between two teams of five players each. During play, only three players from each team (a center and two wings) can be on the court. Every player--whether blind, sighted or visually impaired--must wear eye-shades.

Matches take place on a gym floor in an area about the size of a volleyball court (30 x 60 feet). The court is divided into equal halves and each team guards its own half of the court. They are especially protective of the furthest back edge of their court. This back line is called the goal line.

And what are they trying to keep from crossing over the foal line? Why the goalball, of course. The goal of goalball is to roll (not throw) a ball past the members of the other team and over the opponent's goal line. If that happens, your team earns a point. Of course, the defenders are doing everything they can to keep the ball from crossing the goal line. In fact, they lunge, dive and leap for the ball in order to stop it. If they can capture the ball before it crosses the goal or goes out of bounds, then they now get to roll the ball at your goal line and you have to stop it!

So, how do players know where the goalball is going after someone rolls it? The actual goalball is a heavy rubber ball slightly larger than a basketball, and it has bells in it. As the ball rolls, it makes noise which alerts the defending team to the ball's whereabouts.

There are tactile hashmarks on the court (these are made by placing a piece of string on the floor and a piece of tape over the string) to mark off the goal lines and to help players navigate the playing area.

Goalball Takes Guts! With all the lunging, diving and blocking that defenders have to do to stop the goalball, many players wear elbow and knee pads for protection. It's a good thing, too! Well-conditioned goalball players at the top of their game can roll a goalball at speeds up to 40 km per hour! Because players need to hear where the ball is at all times, crowds are silent while the ball is in play. Yet once a goal is scored, the crowd can cheer or, if their team was just scored on, groan with wild abandon.

Goalball Takes Brains: There is a lot of strategy in goalball. Players try to position themselves in areas of the court that give them the best chance to block an opponent's roll. And they have to be able to react quickly in order to capture the ball before it crosses the goal line.

As in any sport, there are rewards for those who play by the rules and penalties for those who don't. A highball penalty occurs if the roller's ball is airborne (rather than rolling) when it crosses a certain spot on the floor called the highball line. Should this happen, the thrower must defend one throw without the aid of his or her teammates. After the penalty throw, the teammates are led back to the court and play resumes. Three consecutive throws by the same player and controlling the ball for longer than 8 seconds without throwing are also infractions.

Goalball Has Great Games: The sport's origins can be traced back to 1946 when Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sett Reindle developed the game as a rehabilitation activity for post-WWII blind veterans. In 1976 Goalball made its first appearance in the Paralympics and the first world championships were held in Austria in 1978.

During the 2000 Paralympics held in Sydney, Australia, twelve men's teams and eight women's teams played a total of 78 matches. The Men's Gold Medal was won by Denmark while the Women's Gold went to the Canadian team.

According to Dave Hamilton, coach of the Michigan Spitfire Goalball Club, located in Wayne, Michigan, the sport attracts a certain type of person. "Your typical goalball player is the type of person who loves fun, teamwork, and just an all around good time. To be really good at goalball, the athlete must have a lot of heart."

Goalball Has Glory: Depending on an individual's desire, determination and skill, they may be invited to play for their home country's team in the Paralympics. To reach this level of play, a goalball athlete must train for his or her matches just like any other athlete does. This means lots of time spent in practices, lifting weights and sharpening one's balance and throwing skills.

Want to learn more about Goalball? Check out these web links for more information about goalball, including goalball rules, team and fan pages.

Goalball Discussion Forum: A discussion forum for people interested in the sport of goalball.
network54.com/Hide/Forum/65860.

Click this link to visit the Kentucky Thoroughbreds and Fillies Goalball teams website: http://www.kygoalball.org.

"Keep Your Ear on the Ball"

Keith Maitland's documentary Keep Your Ear on the Ball is about a year in the life of a group of blind Austin teenagers who play goalball.

Click this link to visit http://www.keepyourearontheball.com and check out the trailer (there's an audio-described version for the visually impaired>.

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