A milestone moment occurred in Baltimore, Md., April 8-12, as the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) conducted its first blind soccer talent identification camp since being certified by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee as the sport’s national governing body. Twelve athletes from 11 different states participated in three days of drills and scrimmages at the Maryland School for the Blind as USABA prepares to name its first-ever USA Blind Soccer National Team this October.
“The level of athleticism and drive at this camp was not only impressive but inspiring,” said 19-year-old Bailey Martin of Hubbard, Iowa. “Every single athlete was there to improve their game and I believe we achieved that.”
The national team selected in October will be part of more history when they compete at the IBSA Blind Football Central American Championships in December. The Baltimore camp was the first in a series of “Building Blind Soccer” events funded through US Soccer’s Innovate to Grow grant.
“My experience at the Baltimore camp was fun and educational,” stated Casimir Werda, 38, a U.S. Army Veteran from Novi, Mich., who lost his vision in 2007 from an IED explosion while serving in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “I was fortunate to gain insight on what makes a world-class Paralympic athlete and how they conduct themselves on and off the pitch. I hope I can inspire other players like how I was inspired by the other athletes at the camp.”
The three-day camp included both training sessions and scrimmage, allowing coaches to assess each player in multiple areas. Offensive drills focused on the art of dribbling, passing and shooting.
“This camp was a critical next step in the progression of the USA Blind Soccer program, with players and coaches alike taking on the challenge of the training environment and pushing themselves in skill development, conditioning and team building,” said USABA Programs and Finance Director Kevin Brousard. “Although participants came from across the country, the group bonded together over the weekend and left as a united team.”
One of the coaches present at the camp to teach and analyze the players was Fil Wilkinson, director of community engagement for the Charlotte Independence Soccer Club, a team in the USL League One.
“It was great to see the growth of each player individually as they improved their soccer IQ, tactical awareness and techniques over a short period of time,” Wilkinson said. “It was also amazing to be a part of the team’s cohesiveness as they came together to be able to solve and implement different styles of play which will help move them forward to the next stage. Everyone involved showed effort and the right attitude to be successful.”