The Goal Ball Experience

     As I kneel down on the musty gym floor, I can feel masking tape beneath my hands. I am alert and focussed and waiting to pounce at any second. My ears are perked as I listen at attention. My ears follow the movements of the three components who face me. I hear my right winger throw the ball across the court. The rattle of the ball stops as it makes contact with the body of the center player a crossed from me. My heart races as I wait to hear the player’s location on the court. In an instant I know a quick movement will send the ball flying towards me. When it does I throw myself sideways on the ground and slide over to where I hear the ball approaching. Ball blocked. Success, for a second, but there’s still 24 minutes left to go.

     Whenever I play a game of goal ball I am constantly in a state of emergency. Stretching myself out straight and waiting for the hit, hoping it does not leave a burn. My present and past bruises can attest to the fights I’ve fought while playing to win goal ball. My body tells me to avoid the hard balls but my brain knows better. My mind tells me to take the blow, at ease and with grace. It tells me to do it for the team.

     Goal ball is a unique sport that not many people have heard of. Until a year and a half ago I did not have a good idea of what the sport was either. I knew it was a blind sport, but new little else. I did not realize the important significance of the sport for many athletes across the country and around the world. Played at the para-alympics, goal ball is a highly competitive sport for men and women. It represents the only team sport available for visually impaired and blind athletes to compete in. Despite the fact that goal ball is such a high contact sport, I have learned to love playing it. I enjoy the freedom of moving around the court. Feeling the tape under my feet and the net behind my back I am able to move with some confidence as I run, throw and slide. Being able to hear which one of my components has the ball allows me to communicate with my wingers to tell them what area to expect the ball to come from. Through short and verbal cues my team and I can work together to help each other from getting lost on the court, to warn each other about the movements of our components and to prevent one another from falling over each other. Through communication we can also do what many team mates do in able bodied team sports, we can pass the ball to each other, relay important information (such as how many balls we have thrown in a row or give an estimate of how many seconds we have left to get rid of the ball) in order to prevent penalties. We can encourage each other by saying `good job ‘or `we’ll get it back”.

     Goal ball has allowed me to experience a lot of firsts. My first time being on a team, my first time having a coach, my first time wearing a Jerzy, my first time having a position (center), my first tournament, first time hearing a buzzer going off to mark the start of a game, my first time scoring a goal, having a time out, losing a game, being benched and being in the locker room with competitors before and after the game. Watching a game of goal ball also represented the first game that I attended where I could actually follow the game and understand what was going on.

     For all of the girls who I play goal ball with, being on the team represents the first time any of us have ever been on a team. We don’t take for granted the opportunities that playing this sport has given us. The sense of pride and excitement that being on the team has brought for the girls is enough to warm any good persons heart with joy. We’ve been lucky to travel to Montreal and Calgary for tournaments. When we attended our first tournament in Calgary, my mouth was dry as paste before each game because I was so nervous. Nervous about being hit with balls, nervous about losing, nervous about the unexpected events that each game brings. The more I play, the more confident I get. My dry mouth doesn’t visit me as much anymore. With time, I’ve slowly begun to think of myself as a real goal ball player who is serious about the game and who wants to win. Of course having fun is important too. Fun and friends is the back bone of sport and marks the beginning of true athlete development.

     Before attending that first tournament in Calgary I had the chance to pick my own number for my Jerzy. I picked the number 4. I picked 4 in memory of my brother David who died before I was born at age 4. If David had not passed away, I know for certain I would never have been born. Later when I told my dad the reason I chose the number 4 he told me that his number when he played basketball was also number 4. Wearing a Jerzy and being on a team is something I will remember and cherish for life. When I am 80 I will hopefully be able to remember that my Jerzy was number 4 and my kids or grand kids can choose that number in memory of me. Sport makes such a difference in the lives of so many people and I will always remember the differences it has made in my life.  

     In less than two weeks I will attend the goal ball national championships in Vancouver, BC. My team and I are improving and we continue to take steps to be more competitive. At the end of the day, if my team loses you can guarantee that we will be the happiest losers at the tournament. We may not come home with gold, but we will come home with memories, stories and new experiences that will impact us for a life time.