By Rachel Williams
When Brooke Carter started playing goalball 11 years ago, she fell in love with the sport.
Now she is president of the Victorian Goalball Association and is actively working to expand the game into schools and grow its participation numbers so that blind or vision impaired people can experience the fun.
Brooke, who has Retinitis Pigmentisa – which means she has partial vision, is sensitive to light, has poor depth perception, colour deficiency, no peripheral vision and night blindness – was diagnosed with her vision impairment when she was four.
But it hasn’t stopped her living a life that is now somewhat consumed by goalball, a game initially started as a way to rehabilitate World War II veterans.
It is now played at the Paralympics, with more than 100 countries practicing the sport – particularly across Europe.
“Goalball is the only sport for the blind and vision impaired that is not an adapted version of a mainstream sport,” Brooke explains.
“Participants tend to play goalball to learn new skills, be active and make new friends. Many of our members have made meaningful friendships through playing goalball. Others have enjoyed that opportunity to play a spot that caters for them, showing that, when given the chance, they are quite good at sport.”
Goalball is played on a court with goals at each end spanning nine metres wide and 1.3 metres tall.
Two teams of three players are in charge of defending the goals while attempting to score against their opposition.
To score, teams must successfully throw the ball past the opposition’s defence and into their goals.
After a ball is thrown, the defending players have 10 seconds to throw the ball back after one of them touches it.
SKILLS DEVELOPED WHEN PLAYING THE SPORT INCLUDE: • ORIENTATION • TEAM WORK • ACTIVE LISTENING • RESILIENCE • COMMUNICATION • PROBLEM SOLVING • SOCIAL SKILLS • COLLABORATION
The ball is made of hard rubber and has holes in it that allow bells inside to be heard as the ball moves.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for those involved in the sport is actually reserved for the spectators – who must remain quiet to allow the competitors hear the ball and the position of their opponents.
“The unique combination of instincts, hearing and team communication makes the sport exciting and one of a kind,” Brooke says
“All players on the court are required to wear eye shades which allows for an even playing field and adds a new level of difficulty.”
Recruiting players for youth and junior divisions has been a challenge, but one that Brooke is determined to succeed in.
“In 2011 a Junior/Youth combined division was incorporated into the Australian Goalball Championships. In 2012 we saw the introduction of Juniors (14 years and under) and Youth (15-19 years old).
“Since 2013 we have also had youth teams compete at the Youth World Championships.
“Whilst it is great the we now have Junior and Youth divisions, they are the hardest division to recruit members for. As a result of this, these division are slowly coming but recruitment comes in waves.”
“Having only a few players on court in a small area makes it easier to control the game and move around the court safely,” she says.
“In Victoria we are very passionate about providing opportunities for our members to play fun, social Goalball. Many of members complete in state and national competitions.
“The biggest event of the year is the Australian Goalball Championships. This event is played in October each year. We will be heading to South Australia this year. We hope to enter a few Victorian teams in the competition. We are currently in the process of selecting our coaches and our team selections will follow in about a months’ time.”
Over Brooke’s journey she has been a player, coach and administrator and is relishing the challenge of her current presidency.
“Through these opportunities I have developed a wide range of skills and climbed my way to my current position of President,” she says.
“As part of my current role, I have ambitious goals that I want to achieve. Through hard work and perseverance, I hope to grow the sport.”
And despite the threat that her condition will continue to deteriorate as she gets older, she says it won’t stop her playing the game which some experts describe as one of the toughest sports you’ve never heard of.
“Since first trying Goalball, I have loved the game,” she says.