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Holladay Journal

School for the Deaf and Blind hopes to pioneer adapted soccer in Utah

Dec 06, 2018 03:23PM ● By Heather Lawrence

USDB student athletes practice 5-a-side soccer indoors and outdoors to get a feel for each type of terrain. (Photo courtesy Susan Thomas, USDB)

By Heather Lawrence | heather.lawrence@mycityjournals.com

The Utah School for the Deaf and Blind (USDB) leads the way in adaptations for their students. Now they’re hoping to lead the country as the second school in the U.S. to get a soccer field for adapted blind soccer. 

Students at the USDB participated in a developmental camp on Oct. 26 and 27 that introduced them to 5-a-side soccer. With many of the same rules as regular soccer, this is a major sport in blind communities around the world and at the Paralympic Games. 

Susan Thomas, director of communications at USDB, explains the most obvious difference between this game and standard soccer: goggles. “Blindness comes in all forms, from visually impaired to blind. So the visually impaired students wear goggles to block all vision; that way the players are equal in impairment,” Thomas said. The one player who doesn’t have to wear goggles is the goalie.  

This form of soccer isn’t new. Football 5-a-side, as it’s officially known, is an “adaptation of football (soccer) for athletes with a visual impairment. It featured at the Paralympics for the first time at Athens 2004, and has been contested (played) at every Games since.” It’s officially recognized by the Paralympics and described on their website www.paralympic.org.

Coach Marty Langworthy is the athletic director for the USDB, and also works as an orientation and mobility instructor. Coach Marty, as he’s called by students, is an advocate for athletics in the blind community.  

“It’s so close to regular soccer. It’s a lot of fun for our kids to play. For students who may not have the physical skills to play it, they can come and learn and develop those skills. They learn to run and pass just like their sighted peers,” Langworthy said. 

Langworthy explained some of the adaptations for the game. “It’s played on a mini field, 40 meters by 20 meters. There are no off-sides, and there is a board along the sides to keep the ball in play. The soccer ball is regulation, except there is a chip inside of it that beeps so that players can hear it and know where it is,” said Langworthy.

Despite the sport’s popularity around the world, USDB is a pioneer in bringing it to Utah. “We’re starting from ground zero here. I attended a developmental camp in the spring at the Maryland School for the Blind. They have the first 5-a-side field in the country. We are striving to become the second,” Langworthy said. 

Langworthy works with three great supporting coaches and an administrative team that gave him the green light for a blind athletics program. “It’s a vision I’ve always had. We have students who have never kicked a soccer ball, many who used to play soccer but lost their vision and athletes with Paralympic aspirations. This is training for our students and a teaching tool for the community.”

The next developmental camp is planned for spring 2019 and will be open to students in grades 3–12 across the state. Students in grades 8–12 are eligible for the team. 

“This is the first step of many. Our goal is to start playing matches against other blind schools and organizations across the country. They’ll learn what it’s like to be part of a team, the physical and financial demands, and if they are interested, what it would take for them to pursue this as an adult,” Langworthy said. 

To find out more about the spring developmental camp, visit www.usdb.org to see the calendar, or call the Salt Lake campus at 801-464-2000 or video phone 385-282-6945 to get in touch with Coach Marty.