When Marc Chiang, 37, first tried out goalball, he didn’t think it was going to be all that difficult. “After all, I had always been active in other sports before my eye condition developed,” he said, referring to SoundBall (blind tennis), running and swimming.
He was introduced to the sport designed for visually impaired people by a friend from Runninghour, an inclusive running club in Singapore, in April 2015. Invented in 1946 in Europe as a form of rehabilitation for those injured in the Second World War, goalball has evolved into a competitive Paralympic sport and is the only team sport sanctioned by the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA). Players must wear blindfolds at all times during a match, to ensure equality among the varied levels of sight.
Marc was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative condition that affects his central and night vision, in his late 20s. He realised that he kept tripping and bumping into things, and after having discovered typing errors in his documents and messages.
“As [my RP] has yet to fully stabilise, I have to constantly adapt myself to the environment as what I can see today may not be the case in a few months’ time.”
In a video by Singapore Polytechnic featuring the national goalball team leading up to the 2015 ASEAN Para Games, Marc says, “Because I’m partially sighted, I used to rely a lot on my visual sense. But now with goalball, you’re actually supposed to play blindfolded. So, with one sense less, you have to learn to play the game without your vision and rely on other senses.”
In the non-invasive team sport, goalball participants compete in teams of three with the aim of scoring goals. The ball used has bells embedded in it to aid players in judging its position and movement.
“Listening is very important. We depend on listening to the bells in the ball to determine its trajectory and block it from entering the goal. Also, movement on court [was] somewhat restrictive initially as most of us dared not move around, fearing falls or hitting another teammate.”
As for mental challenges, Marc cites stress as a major factor that is mitigated through active work by their team coach. “It grew more and more challenging – both mentally and physically – as we [competed] against teams that are more established, [and] with younger players. Our coach Hansen Bay is a mental coach for SEA games athletes. He provided us mental strength training, which is reinforced during every game or fitness training sessions.”
“This is critical as the mind is trained to handle stress during competitions, where fatigue and competition stress inevitable sets in.”
Despite the mental and physical challenges, Marc enjoys the “camaraderie on and off the court.” “We sweat it out during training. Then, makan [eating out] sessions with my teammates!”
Having competed regionally since 2015, his passion and dedication for the sport has grown. He currently serves as captain of the national team. He credits goalball for instilling “healthy values like resiliency, self-reliance and discipline” in his life. More importantly, he applies mental skills to his daily life.
“Skills like the 3 Rs (Recognise, Regroup, Refocus) are constantly drilled in us during training to help us manage stress and distractions on court. These skills can be put into practice in our daily life to help us manage everyday situations.”
With all the benefits the sport has brought to his life, could there possibly be anything he does not like about goalball? “The sweaty body. We wet the court when we perform defensive sliding to block the ball, and we sometimes do slip while playing!”
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