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Blind Kids Love Sports Too
by Tom Balek
Reprinted from Future Reflections

The whole world has gone crazy. Sports crazy, that is.

Fans pack stadiums by the tens of thousands to watch millionaires hit, catch, throw, tackle, shoot, drive, and run. The airwaves are crammed with games of all sorts and even the commercials during non-sports programs feature athlete-superstars hyping everything from beer to bouquets.

From the time they are tiny, kids are encouraged (sometimes pushed) to become involved in sports. Most boys and girls are active in at least one sport, and for some the pursuit of athletic excellence is the most important aspect of their daily lives.

Some parents feel this emphasis on sports, especially the exaggerated competitiveness so common in kids' sports today, is out of control. Others view sports as essential to physical, social, and mental well-being. But right or wrong, our children are surrounded by sports of all sorts every day. And blind kids are no different.

Parents play a major role in helping their blind children enjoy sports, both as participants and spectators. Every family has different interests, and this should come through naturally with a blind child. If your family loves basketball, your blind child will, too. if you are into car racing, no doubt your blind child will be a race fan. And there is no reason why a blind child can't enjoy the same sports as his sighted peers, as a fan, or a participant or both. My 11-year old son shares my love for sports, and it is something that will always keep us close.

The key is alternative techniques and being creative. Since a blind child can't see the game, it's helpful for a parent to become a good "play by play" announcer. It's surprising how easy and how much fun this is. With a little practice and a little knowledge about the game, a parent can become a good announcer in no time. Listen carefully to a radio announcer (for the common team sports), paying special attention to how he "locates" the action on the field or court. If you don't know all the players by heart, jot down the lineups for quick reference. It doesn't hurt to have your child write or Braille them up before you go to the game. Having a "picture" of the playing field, either in large print, Braille, or raised dot relief, helps a child follow the action better. My boy likes to Braille the football positions, offensive and defensive, for different formations. We refer to them when we discuss the plays.

Learn to keep up with the action, and keep your child involved in the game by frequently updating the score and the game situation. Show your excitement. Describe the crowd, the colors, the surroundings (and for the boys, don't forget the cheerleaders). A good seat at the football or baseball stadium is worth just as much to a blind kid as to anyone else. In fact, the closer you are to the field or court the more action you will hear.

Don't forget the details. Describe the tall guy with the bald head. Read the advertising on the right field wall. Point out the kid in the first row who is working on his third hot dog and got mustard all over his shirt. All of these things are part of a sporting event and you need to share whatever catches your eye.

Radio announcers are preferable to TV because they must provide all the details. But it's a mistake to rely exclusively on radio for a blind child who is learning about the game because the announcer assumes a level of understanding that the child doesn't have. The parent knows the child's perspective and interests and can do a much better job. Besides, there's more to enjoy at a ball game than just the game action. The child wants to be with the parent and enjoy the sounds and smells and feel of the event. A pair of headphones clamped over the child's ears can take him or her right out of the stands. Older children who have a working knowledge of the game can enjoy listening to broadcasts but will still prefer the contact of a parent.

Blind kids love to read about sports, too, a fact that should not be lost on teachers and parents who want their blind students to read and write more. Parents who read the sports pages in the newspaper should consider reading out loud for the benefit of their blind child. [Or sign your child up for NFB Newsline for the Blind, for newspapers free over the telephone. Call 410-659-9314 to sign up.] Frequently I will come across an article in my favorite sport magazine that I know will interest my son, so I key or scan it into his computer and print a copy in Braille for him. And he has quite a collection of baseball, football, and basketball cards which he has Brailled with his slate and stylus. He writes letters to his favorite athletes and follows their exploits in the news. Kids love to talk sports and trade cards. Blind kids should not be left out of this important social interaction.

So our blind children can enjoy sports as spectators. But what about participation? They want action, not just words! And they can have it. Naturally some sports are more accessible to blind kids than others. Swimming is a good example. There are also many talented blind wrestlers. Some blind people are into jogging with a sighted companion. The martial arts are a challenge to the blind but are very rewarding; my son is fortunate to have an excellent, young, and very patient karate instructor, and he is making steady progress.

Adaptations are made to some sports specifically for blind participants, such as bowling with a guide rail and/or gutter bumpers, and beep baseball. But blind kids can participate in other sports which might not seem accessible at first blush. My son really enjoys a game of touch football in the yard with the neighborhood kids. He has experimented at nearly every position and does a pretty good job at center. Football is a "touching" type sport and is easier for him to relate to than baseball. He also loves to play basketball in the driveway; dribbling is no problem and, guided by a beeper attached to his basket, he gets in some shots, too. Even though a blind child may never get to play these team sports competitively, playing with family and friends helps him or her understand the games while getting some good healthy exercise.

Our blind children should expect, and get, the same physical education at school as their sighted peers. We parents must be sure that overly protective teachers and administrators don't isolate our kids for fear they will get hurt. Participation is important for their physical development as well as their relationships to peers. Our kids are entitled to an education, and this includes physical education.

Yes, we admit it; we are sports crazy, my blind son and I. But don't call the shrink. Neither of us wants to get well.

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