A walk on the blind side

2014

With the World Cup in full swing over in Brazil, the little-known sport of blind football (futsal) should make us stop and think. Whilst the majority of football fans watch the soccer matches well into the European night, there are some people who, because of visual impairment, can’t watch the skill of the world’s national teams and their players, yet who can still play football themselves. Brazil, by the way, are the current world blind football champions.

Blind football is not new to those of us who watched the Paralympic games in London in 2012 or in Beijing before that, and from a layman’s perspective one can only wonder how someone can play soccer with impaired vision. Indeed, this game really is an inspiring idea.

Very basically, two five-a-side teams compete using rules very similar to those of soccer but on a small pitch similar to a hand-ball court. The players wear blindfolds to ensure that they are equal in terms of disability. The goal keeper is / can be fully sighted.

Each outfield layer has a guide who helps him choose his personal direction of play and movement and when to pass the ball. Another guide is placed behind the opponents’ goal and he tells the player in possession when he is in a good position to shoot. The ball itself has six rattles inside so players can follow it around and the concrete pitch amplifies the sound made. Players can talk to each other so the game requires a quiet crowd.

The game is a team sport yet is very individualistic and it requires very high levels of psycho-motor skills such as dribbling; it also calls for enhanced spatial cognition.

It is a game which enables individual players to work collectively and the lack of a seemingly essential sense, sight, is by-passed by adjusting the rules and by developing each player’s communication skills, especially listening. The guides in blind football shout precise directions to follow, they also provide the framework for trust. Speed of reaction and interpretation in both guides and players are necessary.

So who plays the game? Some were born blind while others lost their sight because of a hereditary or medical condition in their early years. These players demonstrate true individual resilience through their optimism, their internal locus of control and their increasing self-esteem. They also display an ability to take risks.

Getting truly resilient people to play a seemingly impossible game is what should make those of us fortunate enough to have good sight, think. If management today is often an unpredictable game, then maybe we need to recruit people who appear unlikely candidates at first but who, given favourable circumstances, will show surprising potential.

One wonders whether people with such qualities shouldn’t be more employable than they actually are. Here are some statistics to chew over :

  • In the USA, 37% of blind people are unemployed.
  • In the UK, two-thirds of registered blind and partially sighted people of working age are not in paid employment.
  • One in six of those who become disabled while in work in the UK loses their employment during the first year after becoming disabled.
  • Eight out of 10 of all those in the UK who become disabled are in employment at the time they acquire a disability. But this drops to six out of 10 in the following year, and fewer than four out of 10 (36%) the year after that.
  • "The number of people in the UK with sight loss is set to increase dramatically. It is predicted that by 2050 the number of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million" (Access Economics, 2009)

So if we think about it, blind football requires : clarity of direction; highly-tuned communication skills; highly-resilient people; highly-developed cognitive skills; high trust; high risk-taking ability; individualism; teamwork. So maybe visually-impaired people who take part in this sport, or others, have developed unrecognized qualities to offer employers assuming the employment context accommodates their disability.

If you are impressed by the qualities blind footballers show, then check out paralympic downhill skiing. Who says that sport can’t show us the way?

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About The Author

Malcolm Parker
Malcolm Parker

Malcolm Parker is an Associate Professor of HR Management at SKEMA Sophia-Antipolis in France and Head of Business-Bachelor programmes at the School.