By: Muhammad Waheed, USABA Member and Contributor
Blind Soccer, or five-a-side football, is a popular sport around the world. Similar to futsal, each team has four players who are blindfolded with goalies who can be sighted. Teams have three guides while playing. There are side boards along the perimeter of the field that keep the ball in play and maintain flow for the game.
United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) noticed a lack of teams and blind soccer players in the U.S. and is motivated to change that. Earlier this year, USABA hosted the first-ever Blind Soccer Development Camp in North America at Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore to grow the sport in the U.S. USABA’s goal for the camp was to introduce coaches and athletes to the sport in a way that empowered them to build blind soccer programs in their home communities. Some months after returning home from the camp, three coaches are doing just that – establishing blind soccer programs – in their communities, across the U.S.
Katie Atkinson was introduced to blind soccer through Envision Sports while completing her graduate degree at Slippery Rock University in adapted physical activity. Atkinson now works for Columbus Parks’ Therapeutic Recreation Program and is bringing blind soccer to her community.
After attending the development camp in June, Atkinson said she wrote a proposal letter to bring blind soccer to Columbus which was approved and is now moving forward with recruiting athletes.
When the program launched, Atkinson had no takers. She’s had to educate her community about the sport and promote opportunities to try it out. National Bind Sports Day helped her get the word out.
“Honestly I can tell you it’s been a very hard process,” Atkinson said. “Having the National Blind Sports Day really helped me start this program and have athletes and people who are interested in learning more about the sport.”
Now Atkinson said she expects to have seven visually impaired individuals interested along with four to five sighted volunteers.
Sheena Hager, adapted sports program and event coordinator for the Chicago Park District, is working hard to bring blind soccer to her area.
Hager said she works with individuals 11 and older as well as an adult in his mid-40’s. Hager also attended the camp earlier this year in Baltimore.
“I think I learned mostly how to be more descriptive and how to portray the sport for people that are blind and visually impaired,” said Hager.
Hager has held clinics throughout the city in an effort to recruit athletes.
“My ultimate goal is to start a team,” said Hager. “[I want to] have athletes who are ready to play at national level. It would be phenomenal to see our athletes come out there and make the team and make an impact on the world.”
Salt Lake City, Utah
Martin Langworthy is also working on a blind soccer program in Utah and was in attendance at the developmental blind soccer camp in June.
“[We learned] anything from basic skills that are different from sighted soccer, to networking with players and coaches and board members to get things going,” Langworthy said.
“We are in the process of starting a youth program for our school as well as adults in the state of Utah,” Langworthy said. “We will be holding meetings and things throughout the winter as well as workouts and tryouts in the spring.”
Langworthy said that visually impaired students from around Utah were able to get a chance to learn basic blind soccer skills including kicking and passing on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27.
The development camp held in Baltimore this summer was the first step in bringing blind soccer to a broader audience in the U.S. Coaches have returned home and are recruiting athletes across the country to play this exciting sport. Some of these programs, such as Hager’s in Chicago, are hoping to produce national athletes while others, such as Langworthy’s are also creating opportunities for youth.
Blind soccer has seen some growth since the development camp and the future could hold even more opportunities within the U.S. if programs develop at this rate. The rise of blind soccer programs at this time is important as the U.S. tries to create a Paralympic blind soccer team which could compete when the Paralympic Games come to Los Angeles in 2028. Learn more about the sport on our Soccer 5-a-side sports page.