Meet the sport of goalball

Ringing bells, blind folded athletes and quiet spectators are just some of the many sights and sounds of goalball. Goalball is a team sport designed for the blind and visually impaired and is now played around the globe.

How the sport began

The game of goalball wasn’t a worldwide sport when it was first played. Goalball was invented in 1946 by Austria’s Hanz Lorenzen and Germany’s Sepp Reindle in an attempt to rehabilitate war veterans according to IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation). The sport would then be played in the 1976 Toronto Paralympics and gained popularity. Goalball has been an international Paralympic sport ever since 1976.

The court

The goalball court is the size of a volleyball court. A goal can be found on both sides of the court that players defend. Lines are marked with tape that have wire underneath. The tape is helpful for officials with sight while the wire makes the court tactile and accessible to players. The court has two team areas where players are normally positioned. There are tactile lines that mark the left wing, right wing and center positions. A team line is also marked directly above the left and right wing lines. A high ball line is also marked directly above the team line. A mid court line is then found in the center of the court. The sequence of marked lines repeats in opposite direction going from the mid court line to the high ball line and then to the team area. Boundaries are also marked around the entire goalball court to indicate whether a ball is out of play.

The ball

The goalball is a round shaped ball that weights about three pounds. There are eight holes on the goalball and two bells on the inside. The holes allow the sounds made by the bells to be heard by players on the court. Goalballs normally come in a blue color. The goalball is designed to roll on the ground which means that it doesn’t bounce as much as a basketball might.

Positions

As mentioned above goalball consists of three positions. There are two wings known as either the left or right wing. A center is found in between both of the wings. The wings defend the left and right portions of their team area’s boundaries while the center guards the middle of the team area. All athletes get an opportunity to play offense and defense. One team defends while the other team is on offense trying to score a goal.

A player on offense attempts to score a goal by rolling the goalball. There are various ways to for a player to roll the ball. One of the most common forms of rolling a goalball is very similar to a bowling stance. Step one of the bowling like form of rolling a goalball is to strongly grip the ball in your dominant hand and take your first step with your non dominant foot. The player should then swing their dominant hand backwards while still holding onto the ball. The next step is to step forward with your dominant foot. The player should then immediately swing their arm forward and release the ball. The athlete should bend their knees and back while releasing the ball. The player should then take another step forward with their non dominant foot directly after releasing the ball. An athlete can either smoothly roll the ball onto the court or could attempt to bounce the ball. A player may also add a spin to their form before rolling the goalball. The ball must hit the court before reaching the high ball line in order to avoid a penalty.

Defense in goalball is played by all players on the court. The defending team can either slide or dive to defend their goal. A defender usually shifts towards where they hear the goalball before it is rolled by the opposing team. The defender then quickly reacts to the roll of the ball. Defenders lay on their side and use their body to prevent the ball from going into the goal. The defenders communicate with one another to prepare for the opposing team’s attempt at rolling the ball.

Equipment

There is only one major mandatory piece of equipment all goalball players must wear. Eye shades or blind folds are required regardless of level of sight. Eye shades or blind folds are necessary to even out the playing field. No player will have an advantage due to sight as all players must wear the eye shades. Elbow, hip, and knee pads are recommended for protection to various parts of the athlete’s body. Some players may also wear helmets during play.

Basic rules

Goalball has rules that players must follow. Some of the basic rules are listed below.

  • A goalball team consists of six players. Each team can only have three players on the court during play. Substitutions can be made throughout a game.
  • All players must be blind folded regardless of sight.
  • A goalball game consists of two 12 minute halves.
  • Spectators must remain silent during play, but can cheer or talk at appropriate times during a game such as after a goal has been scored.
  • An official indicates that play is about to begin by saying the words “quiet please” which is then followed by the word “play” to let athletes know that the game is in play.
  • A player has 10 seconds to pass the ball to a teammate or roll the ball in an attempt to score a goal. The 10 seconds begin after an official says the word “play” or after a block is made by a defender.
  • Goalball is very similar to volleyball due to both teams rolling the ball and defending their goal continuously until a stoppage in play occurs such as a goal being scored or the ball rolling out of bounds.

Penalties

Penalties are one of the hardest and most interesting parts of goalball. A player that commits a penalty has to defend their team’s goal all by themself. The player that caused the penalty to occur stays on the court while their other two teammates exit for the penalty shot. The opposing team that did not cause the penalty gets to keep all three of their players on the court. The team that didn’t commit the penalty picks a player to roll the ball down the court who tries to score a goal. The player who caused the penalty must try to block the scoring attempt all by them self for that specific play.

Some of the penalties that can occur in a goalball contest are listed below.

  • 10 Second Penalty: A team fails to roll the ball away from their team area within the first ten seconds of play or after making a defensive block.
  • Eye shade Penalty: A player touches their eyeshades during play.
  • High Ball Penalty: The ball is rolled by a player and doesn’t hit the court until it passes over the high ball line.
  • Noise Penalty: Too much noise is made by players on the court at improper times.
  • Coaching Penalty: A coach coaches a player during play or communicates with a player on the court after an official asks for quiet.

Officials

There are more officials than players in goalball. There are four line judges around the court. The four line judges are located around the sides of both goals. The line judges help determine whether a goal is scored and also chase the ball if it goes out of bounds. There are also officials who keep track of the game clock and 10 second shot clock. The “quiet please” and “play” commands are made by the referee. The referee also announces whether a goal is scored.

Basic game information

A goalball match consists of two 12-minute halves. Overtime consists of two three-minute halves. The first team to score a goal in overtime wins the game.

Each team also has the option to call timeout and make substitutions throughout the goalball match. Teams have four timeouts at the start of a match. A timeout will be lost if a team does not use one of the four available in the first half meaning that a team will have three timeouts to start the second half if no timeouts were used in the first half of play.

Goalball consists of the two competing teams rolling the ball and defending their goal on a regular basis. Stoppages in a game may occur when a goal is scored, a penalty shot is attempted, a timeout or substitution is called, a player needs an equipment check or when an official signals for a pause in play such as a line judge grabbing the ball after it rolls out of bounds. The game of goalball is played at different paces. Some teams prefer a slower speed of play while other teams roll the ball and defend their goal at a rapid pace.

Goalball is played at different competition levels. The highest level of play occurs at the Paralympic Games, but competitions do occur for youth and adult athletes.

All official goalball rules can be found at the IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation) goalball rules webpage.

Conclusion

Goalball is a team sport designed specifically for the blind and visually impaired. The sport of goalball is now played around the globe by many. The highest level of the sport is played at the Paralympic Games. The sport of goalball has so much more to it than the basics found in this story. Goalball is a unique and fun sport enjoyed by many blind and visually impaired athletes around the world at various different levels of competition.

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