How visual impairment led Tyan Taylor to become a key member of Australia’s Paralympic goalball team. By Richard Cooke .

Roll playing: Tyan Taylor, 27, goalball player

Goalball is a sport played by vision-impaired or totally blind athletes. It’s a team sport. Each person on the court is blindfolded. You play with a ball about the size of a basketball. It weighs about 1.2 kilograms and has bells in it. The objective of the game is for one person to roll the ball along the ground, through the line of defence and into the goals.

It is a pretty quick-paced game. To defend the ball, your team of three have to build a human wall to stop the ball going past. You are using the full extent of your body.

My mum was a netball fan, so I would spend all my Saturdays on the side of a netball court. Due to my vision, it was a bit difficult for me to play netball, so I sort of stumbled across outdoor soccer and played that for a number of years, but still found that quite difficult.

I went to the 2000 Sydney Paralympics with school. And we watched this sport called goalball. I had never heard of it before, and I remember sitting in the stadium and everyone had to be really quiet while watching it, so the players could hear the ball. I came home and I told my nan about this sport and how cool it was that they had a sport for people with vision impairments like me.

I was 10 and I told my nan, “I am going to go to the Paralympics and I am going to play goalball.” It took a couple of years to actually come across it, because it wasn’t very big in Australia at the time. 

Three months after playing this sport I went to my first nationals and played for New South Wales. The only team we lost against was Queensland, and at that time the entire Queensland team were the entire Australian women’s team. 

I still have to pinch myself occasionally because it was so rapid. I had only played a few months and then within six months I was at my first international tournament, wearing the green and gold. 

It’s a crazy thing to think about, it is such an honour to be able to excel so quickly in a sport. Not a whole lot of people can do that. It is a bit surreal still that I’ve competed at two Paralympics now: London and Rio. 

The crowd can’t make any noise while the ball is in play. But as soon as a goal gets scored and the umpire has blown their whistle, then the crowd goes a bit crazy. I suppose it is similar to tennis. When you are watching tennis most of the crowd is very quiet until a particular call is made and then there is cheering. 

Us players are 100 per cent blindfolded. We are purely just hearing the bells and the ball and the court is tactile, so we are really relying on all our other senses. Each line on the court is raised, so it is similar to a rope that is taped down. When you stand up you can touch the back of the goals, so we use them as our orientation as well. 

Communication between players is a huge thing in goalball. A lot of it is very specific calls. We directly call each other’s name if we are going to pass the ball to each other. I will say my teammate’s name, wait for them to respond, and then I will pass the ball.

You don’t really want to run into each other because it will hurt. That is a big part – trust is a big thing as well, you have to be very clear because you can’t read the body language of any of your teammates. You can feel a bit vulnerable sometimes if you are playing a busy game and you are tired, you are in your own head, you can’t see it. It is a very physical and mentally challenging game. 

Those born totally blind do use techniques of echo location, or they will rely on their hearing a lot more than people who are vision impaired. They might be able to track or hear the ball better, but in terms of teaching someone how to throw a ball correctly or defend a ball correctly, it sort of weighs itself out, I suppose. Someone who is totally blind has to be physically manipulated and moved into those positions to be able to explain it. I think in the end it is an even playing field. 

Our No. 1 rule when defending? Block your face. We spend a lot of time just throwing balls at each other and blocking balls to get our defence correct and lining up, so we are synchronised with our defending. We will shuffle and move around to try and cover as much court as we can as a team.


This week’s highlights…

Cricket: The Ashes – Australia v England, 1st Test, day 3

Saturday, 10am (AEST), The Gabba, Brisbane

Rugby league: World Cup semi-final – Tonga v England

Saturday, 4pm (AEDT), Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland

Soccer: A-League – Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar

Saturday, 7.50pm (AEDT), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Rugby league: Women’s World Cup semi-finals

Sunday, 1.45pm and 4pm (AEDT), Southern Cross Group Stadium, Sydney

Soccer: Matildas v China

Sunday, 4.30pm (AEDT), Simonds Stadium, Geelong

• Motorsport: F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Sunday, 11.59pm (AEDT), Yas Marina Circuit, United Arab Emirates

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 25, 2017 as "Roll playing". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.

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