By Eduard Cauich
October 26, 2023
To promote blind soccer, PlayLA is conducting a series of eight clinics. The free clinics are aimed at blind and visually impaired youth and children ages 5 to 17.
The Los Angeles 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games seem a long way off, but some of the programs that promote sports for children with disabilities are already going full steam ahead. One of the sports that the Olympic organizing committee is promoting is soccer for the blind, which for the first time will have a U.S. team competing for a medal in the summer of 2028.
This modality of adapted soccer is practiced by blind or visually impaired athletes by means of a sound ball, castanets, in a discipline that combines speed and skill. In its competitive version, each team is made up of four field players, plus a non-disabled goalkeeper.
The playing area is completely surrounded by a wall or fence, so that the ball does not leave the court. The offside rule does not apply either, so that the action hardly stops. The matches consist of two 25-minute halves. To prevent players with the slightest visual impairment from benefiting, all players must wear eye patches and a blindfold that completely covers their eyes.
Blind soccer is the only Paralympic sport of the 22 adapted disciplines in which the United States did not have a team and this time it qualified automatically because Los Angeles is hosting the event. According to the national team's coach, the U.S. still has a lot of work to do before the Paralympics, but the goal is to be competitive in the summer of 2028 and for the team to be able to medal. For now, the national team meets in Chula Vista, California, three times a year. By 2032, the U.S. is expected to have a women's team in this category.
"We are trying to grow the game not only at the practice level, but also in the community," said Katie Smith, coach of the U.S. national team.
Blind soccer has been played at the Paralympics since 2004 and since then, Brazil has won all five versions (2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020). The sport began in schools for the visually impaired, and Spain is believed to have started with an adapted version of the discipline in 1920. In Brazil it began to be played in the 1960s and by 1974 they had their first national championship. In 1987 they formed their first national team and in 1997 they won the America's Cup for the Blind. Overall, Brazil is a powerhouse in the Paralympic Games having placed seventh in Tokyo 2020 and eighth in Rio 2016, thanks to their high investment in the Paralympics and their athletic ability. Other powerhouses in blind soccer include Argentina, China, France and Spain.
To promote sports in Los Angeles, the organizing committee for the 2028 Olympics and Paralympics and the International Olympic Committee awarded $160 million to the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, according to Jacqueline Lopez, program director of PlayLA Adaptive Youth Sports.
Thanks to that investment, PlayLA is conducting a series of eight soccer clinics for the blind and visually impaired. Supported by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA), the free clinics are for blind and visually impaired youth ages 5 to 17, and all levels are eligible to participate. Coaches and members of the U.S. Men's National Blind Soccer Team are involved in each of the clinics, where participants learn the fundamentals of adapted soccer, drills, game play and communication.
"We want young people to know more about blind soccer, and hopefully some of them can be on the national team, so we want to give that opportunity to blind athletes or those with disabilities around the country and this is one way to do that," said Smith, who was present at the clinics in Pacoima.
The next two clinics take place this Saturday, Oct. 28, and Nov. 4 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Recreation Center in Pacoima. Each clinic is held from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
"We want to metaphorically create bridges so that we don't have someone excluded in our programs no matter where our families are from, no matter their economic situation," explained Lopez, who invited the community to participate in these events. "We give quality practices and clinics. It's not because it's free that it's low quality. It's the best quality we can give to the community."
According to Lopez, these clinics began in 2021 with volleyball for the disabled and have expanded to soccer, basketball, horseback riding, surfing and archery.
In Pacoima, a member of the national blind soccer team, David Brown, helped beginners in the sport like Cynthia Flores, 9, get her first experience playing soccer.
Cynthia wasn't very interested in soccer but this year she said she wanted to try it and her mother, Arleen Flores, took advantage of the proximity of the event, in the San Fernando Valley, to take her.
"I am seeing that my daughter is happy, happy and that makes me happy too," expressed Arleen. "This program is very important, for families with special needs, because it develops children socially, it gives them independence."
Ethan Jiménez, of Compton, is also one of the participants who most frequent these PlayLA clinics.
"What I like most about these programs is that they bring a lot of players of different ages to play," stated Ramirez, who had trouble at first hearing the sound of the ball and having coordination.
"These clinics are awesome, the coaches are good and I would love for many people to be able to come out and participate in a community like this," added Ramirez.
For more information about PlayLA, visit adaptivesportsla.org or call 310.202.2803.