May 6, 2024 - Sports

Columbus' representation on the USA Blind Soccer Men's National Team

Coach Katie Smith and Noah Beckman.

USA Blind Soccer Men's National Team coach Katie Smith and player Noah Beckman are both from Columbus. Photos: U.S. Association of Blind Athletes

Columbus athlete Noah Beckman and head coach Katie Smith are helping chart a new course for the USA Blind Soccer Men's National Team as it gears up for its first Paralympic Games in 2028.

Why it matters: The program is not just developing a new team. It's building traction for blind sports across the country, Smith tells us.

State of play: Blind soccer dates back to the 1920s and debuted at the Paralympic Games in 2004.

Yes, but: The USA had never competed in the sport until naming its first national team two years ago.

  • It will receive an automatic bid to the '28 Games, hosted by Los Angeles.

Flashback: Beckman, an OSU finance graduate who works as a federal banking examiner, grew up in Dublin playing a variety of sports, from baseball to rec soccer and street hockey.

  • As his vision worsened, he transitioned to the School for the Blind and learned blind-specific sports like goalball.
  • An adult league goalball teammate connected him with Smith, who had developed a local blind soccer team in 2018 as an employee with the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department.

In 2022, the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes fielded its first national blind soccer team with Smith named the head coach.

  • The West Chester, Ohio, native is balancing that responsibility with her work on a Ph.D. at OSU focused on adapted physical education for people with disabilities.

The intrigue: Beckman tells us his vision has declined in recent years to the point of only being able to see light, allowing him to qualify for the national team.

  • "My vision got crappy enough just in time, thank goodness," he jokes.
  • He grew to love the sport after developing an aggressive style as one of America's first elite players.
  • "What struck me about blind soccer is how constantly mobile you have to be."

Between the lines: The national team gathers several times per year in Chula Vista, California, for rigorous training.

  • Coaches use magnetic tactical boards and commentate taped footage to teach strategies and play designs.
A blind soccer coach and players feel a magnetic strategy board.
Coach Smith and players use a magnetic board to learn new blind soccer strategies.

What's next: The team is still working to build camaraderie and experience, Smith says. It's also still seeking a ranking by the International Blind Sports Federation.

  • The USA will compete in more exhibitions and tournaments ahead of 2028.

The intrigue: The current roster is not necessarily the one that will compete in the Paralympics.

  • Athletes must try out each year as newer players come through the development pipeline.

Beckman says he will "do my damnedest" to stick around until the '28 Games.

  • In the meantime, he feels "very humbled" to represent the U.S. on the international stage.
  • "I have the ability to show what blind people can achieve."
A blind soccer coach and player practice on the field.
Coach Smith and a player working on plays at a California training facility.

The rules of blind soccer

Blind soccer is played on a 20-by-40-meter pitch surrounded by "kick-boards" that indicate the boundaries to players.

  • There are five players per team: one sighted goalkeeper and four athletes with visual impairments.
  • Those four wear eye shades to ensure the same level of vision.

Zoom in: The ball makes sounds when it moves, and teams can use off-field guides to help direct players.

  • Players must shout "Voy!" (translating roughly to "I go" in Spanish) when pursuing the ball to avoid collisions.
  • The crowd must stay silent, except when a goal is scored, so players can hear the cues.

👀 Watch a game: USA's international friendly against Canada last year.

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