Blind soccer can’t be ignored!

Introduction

The idea for this event started in 2018 when Matt Greenwood was approached by the Ontario Parasport Collective to consider a project on developing more coaches for blind soccer. An application was developed in partnership with Ontario Blind Sport staff and submitted then approved with the plan to host the course in March 2022.  The small matter of a global pandemic forced it to be postponed until things were safe again and by October 2021, we felt confident that a course in 2022 was feasible and we finally delivered on our charter May 6th-8th.

Ontario Blind Sport Association and Soccability Canada would like to sincerely thank the Ontario Parasport Collective for their vision. A project like this is unique, bringing together coaches, players and match officials to one location to learn and develop. Typically this sort of ‘coming together’ would only happen at a tournament or festival so being able to come together in such a positive, holistic environment was excellent.

This event was generously funded in part by: Ontario Trillium Foundation through the Ontario Parasport Collective and hosted at CNIB Lake Joseph in the Muskoka’s, Ontario.

All staff noticed what we would call the ‘intangibles’, a connection between all three parties that led to greater awareness, mutual respect and a desire to work together in the future. This was above and beyond the planned tangibles of education and knowledge sharing. We knew people would come away informed, maybe even excited about the sport of blind soccer but this connection was at another level and fantastic to experience.

The event delivered some fantastic ‘firsts’ that will be a legacy for many years to come;

  1. The first blind soccer residential course in Canada. While we estimate over 1700 people have experienced blind soccer sessions, (at their school, work or club), never before has a residential event been run.
  2. The first braille soccer coaching manual in the world!
  3. The first official blind soccer event to officially open the CNIB Lake Joe soccer field.
A Soccability Canada audible ball sits on a podium. Behind it is a large piece of artwork showing a silver tree on a shiny blue background.

Learning Facilitators

Coaching Facilitator

Charly Simo was the former head coach of the French National Blind Soccer team. He met with us on a webchat before committing to the event and wanted to be clear on the course structure and organization. Charly had a strong focus on elite levels of football and brought many examples of high-level blind soccer. There were some concerns expressed by candidates that they needed his content to connect with grassroots delivery and that maybe it was a little too advanced for them. However, Charly paid close attention to safety and the needs of the athlete which was an important reference point throughout the weekend.

Match Official Facilitator

Mariano Travaglino of Argentina was our planned match official facilitator. As the head referee for the International Blind Sport Association (Football Committee) he was the ideal presenter and has world class experience. He frustratingly missed the course due to a delay in his visa being issued and will deliver an online session to our match officials shortly.

Four match officials dressed in blue shirts and black bottoms stand in front of a soccer goal. 2 match officials are female and two are male.

Athletes

Athletes were picked up on the Friday morning from two specific locations central to the team bases. Pickering FC players were picked up by OBSA Staff from the the east end of Toronto and the North Mississauga SC players were picked up from Square One in Mississauga. A 12-seater bus drove them all to the Lake Joe location. This enabled players to connect on the way up and players commented that it was also helpful on the way back to really get to know the other players from the GTA. They got to build friendships with new players beyond just the field and competition.

The athletes from North Mississauga had only been playing since February 2022 when a Soccability Canada had delivered an open house event to assist the club in starting a program. The Pickering team had been together since early 2021 as we slowly came out of lockdown but in recent months had been limited to an indoor gym facility rather than turf field. There was a lot of enthusiasm and mutual respect as a diverse mix of gender, ethnicity and ages came together for this weekend. Most athletes were in the age range of 20-35 years which bodes well for the future.

A player in yellow jersey and red pinnie shoots the ball at a stretched goalkeeper. A guide stands behind the net and watches as the ball goes wide.

Coaches

Invitation to the course was shared on social media three months prior to the event, following a ‘save the date’ message which started to raise awareness 6 months earlier. In all 18 applications came through the online portal and with space limited to 15 delegates we had to move three people to a wait list for 2023. (This list also now includes 3 match officials and 1 player too). The applicants were selected based on geographic location and ability to influence the start of a program in their local community. In some cases this required more than one coach in order for them to support each other locally (London and York Region). Coaches from Mississauga, Pickering and Ottawa attended in order to boost their technical knowledge.

Match Officials

As the sport of blind soccer is heavily based around futsal rules it made sense to approach Ontario Soccer for their recommendation on suitable officials to participate in this weekend. Four names were provided (2 male and 2 female) and three of those were able to officiate the next weekend at the Ontario Parasport Games. Futsal is a fast paced game with close contact and lots of dribbling so these officials were familiar with the need to make quick calls and to communicate constantly with each other.

Course Resources

Course Manual

The work on a course manual began in late 2021 with a focus on capturing the key areas of blind soccer and specifically referencing the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) through the Coaches Association of Canada. Our focus was on a resource that new coaches could take away with them as a reference tool for the future, and a document they could take notes in for their own reminders. The final product came out really well, however we had hoped for more engagement with NCCP staff along the way. Our expectation was for a course to be implemented that could be further refund by CAC staff so that it would be recognised in the future under the NCCP program. The NCCP program was alluded to during the opening presentation, and we will seek candidate feedback as part of our follow up surveys.

A ball sits on the green turd while two groups of player stand in the back ground preparing to play.

Braille Manual

We were most proud of the idea to produce the course manual in braille. The cost of brailling a document was much more than we had anticipated but it was not required for every player and so we created four copies that were shared during the course and returned at the end. This was greatly appreciated by the athletes who read braille and they were amazed by the opportunity to read about soccer in braille. Two comments were made by athletes around the translation of braille on the field diagrams which was very insightful and will be adjusted for future course camps.

A young male player in black uniform sits next to a turf field and reads a braille manual.

Delegate Package

Each coach, team official and player received a clip board and pen, role specific t-shirt and concussion handouts. The coaches also received an audible ball each to take back to their club/community in order to start a program.

Location

The CNIB property at Lake Joseph is a beautiful 12.5 acre site on the north-west shore of the lake. The location offers a wide range of outdoor activities for campers including swimming, kayak, walks, basketball, shuffleboard and soccer. For indoor programming there is a large recreation room as well as a main meeting room. Specific to the needs of our course;

Main meeting room – provided ample space for players, coaches and match officials to meet with space to spread out. No desks are in this room so delegates used their clip board on their laps. It had a small projector screen which would need to be larger for future courses. A sound system was made available but not used.

Cafeteria – nutritious meals were provided on each day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) with additional coffee and fruit snacks available in between meals. The kitchen staff were very helpful and addressed our needs quickly and professionally.

Soccer field -the jewel in the crown. This course was the first official event in the turf, and it didn’t disappoint. Measuring 20m x 40m the 3rd generation turf has rubber pellets ingrained in the playing surface while a bright yellow warning line around the edge of the turf is also mixed with pellets and ground coconut shell. This gives the surface a different texture and sound, so participants know when they are at the field edge.

Recreation room – this was made available to us but not used during this course. Essentially this space has a large TV, board games and indoor games.

A group of thirty people sit in large brown couches listening to a speaker at the front of the room. Large windows and a fireplace are directly behind the speaker.

Technical

The technical content focused on; orientation of the players both on and off the field, passing (short and long), dribbling, shooting and tackling. Specific attention was given to the use of the word ‘voy’ – when, how and why it should be used. The delegates were set tasks to deliver a specific topic to the players and then have 30 minutes of planning they were given the chance to deliver their topic. Charly provided feedback on each session and the group as a whole, including players, discussed their thoughts on it.

Finally on the Sunday morning (final day) the group were able to experience a game which included the walkout protocols before a game, rules at a very basic level and a penalty shoot out to conclude.

Coaches discuss their session plan in the classroom before heading to the field.

Feedback

  • As part of the course, we had specifically created time on the Saturday evening to discuss the delegates experiences and thoughts on the future of the sport and most importantly, what can THEY do with this new found knowledge. The feedback is still being consolidated and then reviewed to help inform the future direction of the program.

Future Plans

Short Term:

  1. Club programs are planned for London Whitecaps and Cambridge Youth Soccer Club to be established in the Fall, 2022. These will hopefully be teams competing at the 2023 Ontario parasport Games in Durham Region.
  2. York Region District School Board (YRDSB) Programs will expand from just offering goalball to introducing soccer in September 2022.
  3. Soccability Canada and OBSA will investigate the chance to create a women’s national program in the next 6 months and in time for the Central American Championship.

Long Term:

  1. Expansion of the Lake Joseph camp to a Youth Course and Adult Course enabling for more age-appropriate structure and a differentiation in coach leaders and player levels.
  2. Work with NCCP to move this to a certification course by 2024.
  3. Develop the course structure to become more efficient, make use of homegrown expertise in Canada for course instruction. A recommended course structure:
  4. Develop a men’s program to work alongside the female opportunity in front of us.

Successes

  1. Players, coaches and referees all jumped into this course with total commitment. This enabled open and honest discussion about how blind and Visually impaired players should be coached, how the game flows and how to best move forward with the development of blind soccer.
  2. The focus on safety around the players was paramount and everyone came away with a greater awareness of the need for good, clear communication.
  3. The CBIB Lake Joe facility was the perfect location. Providing a remote venue away from most distractions meant that delegates could focus on the sport and the fantastic playing surface. It also offered for a social venue each evening when CNIB staff prepared a log fire and Smores at the lake side.
  4. Collaborating with CNIB Lake Joe staff on the registration of each delegate made for food preparation and room set up a lot smoother. This was all ready prior to the soccer staff arrival.

The course organisers would like to thank;

Eugene Chong (CNIB Lake Joe Facility Manager)

Cort Bremner (Videographer and photographer)

Charly Simo (Coaching Instructor)

A group of players in yellow pinnies huddle with their coaches dressed in blue. They are at centre field preparing before kick off.

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