Soccer coaches from around the country come to Rutgers to learn how to coach the blind
People from all over the country gathered at Rutgers University this week to learn how to coach soccer to the blind.
Antoine Craig, a member of the USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team, never played soccer as a kid.
“Playing soccer has been one of the most liberating things I have ever done,” he says. Craig started playing soccer with other adults two years ago.
“When I first lost my vision, I didn’t know all of this was available to me,” he says.
Craig started gradually losing his sight at age 15 due to a condition called retinitis pigmentosa. Since 2019, most of his day is in darkness. He and his teammates rely heavily on sounds like taps on the goalpost as they compete.
“In soccer, we don’t have any tethers. We don’t have any kind of anything,” says Craig. “We’re just free to roam around and just kind of get after it."
Coaches say there are fewer than 20 blind soccer teams across the U.S. They say they would like to launch many more. That's why they are training new coaches and showing them how to use rattling soccer balls and other sounds to help more athletes play the game.
The national team's head coach, Katie Smith, is at Rutgers University this week to help train coaches from 10 states. The trainees wear the eye coverings required of all players - to experience what the athletes experience.
"I have loved seeing a lot of our athletes who may have never gotten to play a sport before or a team sport in camaraderie in general,” Smith says.
Smith says her goal is to get more blind and visually impaired athletes on the field - adults and children.
“The fact that you’re able to run, it feels like you’re free,” says team member Oseas De Leon.
De Leon, who started playing blind soccer as a kid, knows how important it can be.
“I really enjoy the sport and making friends. Soccer is a good excuse to make friends,” De Leon says.
The USA Blind Soccer Men’s National Team is hoping to compete in the 2028 Paralympics games in Los Angeles.