Introducing “Four-Minute BarrierS”, the new MIXED Futsal game for sighted AND unsighted people!
by Iacopo Fossi
Exactly three years ago, two athletes of the Italian national 5-a-side futsal team for the blind, Jacopo Lilli and Nicola Mauro, contacted ASD Quartotempo Firenze to find out if it was possible to create, on the Florentine territory, a team of this discipline in which they could train. They were part of the team of Rome and Bari but had moved to Florence for study and it was therefore impossible for them to continue to practice this sport with continuity. In these three years the team has not only been formed, but thanks to a tight-knit, numerous and international group and the professionalism of the technical staff, it has achieved excellent results on a sporting and a social level. Following the numerous exchanges and experiences with the national and international sports realities of reference, as well as with the professional associations, some questions have emerged regarding the future and a possible further development of the discipline in question, such as “How can a blind person who lives far from one of the few existing teams in Italy (only six) train constantly and yearn to participate in the Italian championship?”” And again, “How can a team be formed if the number of blind people lives in a place where there are few people?”
And then other questions arise: “Blind students in schools, which are often very few, how can they take part in team sports activities proposed in the hours of gym class, thus avoiding an almost inevitable exclusion?”
Speaking to many families of blind children and young people, the elements that often frighten parents are related to the safety and physical security of their child. For many of them, 5-a-side blind futsal is dangerous, and this means that they orient the choices of the child/young adult towards individual sports, whereas a team sport of this type has a very high therapeutic power both on the psychological level for the relationships that are woven and for the common mission shared with other companions, The reason for this is that being able to move freely on the pitch without any kind of help (white stick/guide/accompanying dog), knowing where the ball is going, orienting oneself to capture it or pass it on to a companion, brings benefits in terms of coordination and spatial orientation that transcends the field of soccer and has a strong impact on daily life (“One who knows how to orient himself on the pitch in a neighborhood is not lost,” says Jacopo Lilli, footballer for 20 years).
Putting together these elements of security, distance, loneliness, benefits on several dimensions, the Administration of Quartotempo Firenze began to think that if the organization of the game had changed then something new and important could open up. It was the meeting with the Foundation for Development of the Cultural and Business Potential of Civil Society (FDCBPCS) based in Bulgaria and with the project manager Matteo Curreli who gave the concrete start to the project that now takes the name of “Four-Minute BarrierS”: it was their idea to bring together sighted and blind on the same field. Months of field experiments, reflections at the tables, night phone calls when ideas without time arose; everything revolved around a few questions: What rules to introduce to make the game exciting for both the sighted and the blind? What rules should be introduced to make the game exciting for both the sighted and the blind? What regulatory balance is possible to ensure that the blind do not feel frustrated?
The rules were then born after a long gestation made of trials and reconsiderations and now they are the framework for a beautiful new sport, safer than 5-a-side futsal, more fun for the blind (i.e., a pass received by a sighted is often more accurate than that received by a blind person; a blind person can afford with more peace of mind to make an inaccurate transition to a sighted person instead of investing energy in extreme precision; it is a more choral game), applicable in many realities with a small number of blind people (a school, a remote village), which promotes integration and an easy exchange between the world of sighted and blind people, an exchange that often, very often, is complex and full of fears and bilateral insecurities. A discipline in which pietism and imposed integration are banned, whose rules allow to play at a remarkable competitive level, without excluding blows…. and teasing, as the video attached to the project clearly shows. The rules provide that the teams are made up of 5 players per team, of which 3 are sighted, including the goalkeeper, and 2 are blind. Essential elements for a game of this discipline are: a sound ball and the presence of side walls that allow blind players to have a constant spatial reference and that promotes their safety. The two blind players are obliged to station each one in a different half of the field; they can interchange but when they do so they must necessarily disregard the action. If a defender attacks a ball carrier, whether sighted or blind, he is required to signal himself vocally using the international term “Voy“. The rules prevent a sighted player from taking the ball away from a blind player when he is in possession of the ball, but it is possible to intercept a pass. Conversely, a blind player may attack any opposing player in possession of the ball. Finally, for an action to be concluded at goal, there must have been at least 3 consecutive passes in the offensive half of the field.
MIXED-FUTSAL 5: A RICREATIVE OPPORTUNITY FOR SOCIAL INTEGRATION AND SELF-DEVELOPMENT
by Jacopo Lilli
It has been now more than twenty years of my life as visually impaired football player in which I had a lot of chances to talk about my sport, and, the immediate reaction of the interlocutor has always been total incredulity; total skepticism. Even if for obvious reasons I couldn’t see with my own eyes the expression on their faces (since I am blind from birth), I was nonetheless able to feel their curious and skeptical eyes on me, always followed by the decisive question:<< How can you do that?>>.
This brief preamble is needed by the readers in order to understand that we, visually impaired players, are used to moving around a skeptical environment since the very beginning of our activities. Therefore, I can already imagine your incredulity in reading that an experience of mixed-futsal 5, that is a futsal 5 in which sighted and visually impaired players can play together in the same team, not only is it possible, but could be incredibly useful under multiple points of view for both sighted and visually impaired; not forgetting that it is extraordinary funny and stimulating.
My report will be developed into two parts: a first more explanatory part, aimed to specify the characteristics of the game and how it works; it will follow a brief dissertation of the aspects that are, in my humble opinion, the major strength of this innovative sport discipline.
Characteristics of the game and how it works
The mixed-futsal 5 integrates many rules and characteristics of the futsal 5 for VIP. In order to allow the players to be able to play it is indispensable the use of a sonorous ball and the presence of 1.30 meters barriers across the wing sides of a regular futsal 5 court to stop the ball from getting off the court and to represent a constant source of spatial orientation for the players.
Teams have to be made by a number of 2 visually impaired players and 3 sighted players of which 2 field players and 1 goalkeeper. Another crucial characteristic is the presence of 2 sighted guides who can orientate the visually impaired players on the curt; again, another characteristic from the futsal 5 for VIP. More precisely, the guides are: the goalkeepers for what concerns the defensive phase, the guide behind the opponent’s goal that guides the visual impaired player for the shoot, and, of course, the sighted player on the court. The role of the sighted players is defined by some specific characteristics that allow the game to be equal and matching considering the different physical conditions between sighted players and visually impaired players. For instance, the two sighted players on the court are called to mandatory stay separated by the middle field’s line, therefore staying one in the defensive side of the court and the other on the offensive one; in case a sighted player crosses the defensive middle field carrying the ball with him in the offensive middle field, the other sighted player will have drop the offensive action and go back to the defensive middle field. Even the guide role of the sighted player is limited to its middle field. Furthermore, the sighted player cannot neither tackle the visually impaired player nor intercept his shoot; vice versa, the visually impaired player can do both. The goalkeeper can use all the penalty area and tackle the opponent with all his body but only if the opponent is sighted, otherwise the goalkeeper’s area of action is limited to a perimeter of 2 m x 5 m. Another characteristic common to the two sports is the mandatory vocal warning by the defender to the ones who is carrying the ball, before the defender proceeds with tackling his opponent, in order to make his defensive action “visible” also to the visually impaired players who can therefore avoid the opponent. This must be done in order to guarantee the physical safety of the players in the field and reduce the possibility of injuries and physical damages. In order to make the actions more fluid and choral, there are some specific rules of the mixed-futsal 5: every offensive action played in the offensive middle field has to see the pass from the sighted player to the visually impaired player before they can shoot. This sequence doesn’t have to be repeated in presence of free kick, penalty, touche in case the ball gets beyond the barriers.
Element of strength of the sport discipline disserted
The tests undertaken by the ASD Quarto Tempo Firenze and the exchange of ideas with experts and stakeholders on this matter have shown elements of strength regarding the implementation of the project and its future perspectives.
First of all, the practical tests in team have underlined how, in comparison with the futsal 5 for VIP, the mixed-futsal 5 is a more dynamic sport in which the gaming actions are developed in a definitely more choral and harmonious way. The persistent 1 vs 1 actions, typical of the futsal 5 for VIP, are substituted by a sensitively increased propension to the passing among the teammates and to the movements without carrying the ball. This element allows a more efficient use of the energies and, therefore, a more lucid and efficient shooting phase, particularly for the visually impaired players. Tests have also demonstrated that the role of the sighted players is not a mere role of guide, they are instead a constantly active part of the game which appears more stimulating and funny, also for them.
The debate regarding the prospective that the implementation of this kind of sport discipline might open has been interesting and rich of ideas as well. First of all, it has to be underlined as this sport discipline, just like the futsal 5 VIP, increases and refines skills that happen to be essential in the visual impaired player’s daily life; allowing him to be more autonomous and efficient.
In the futsal 5 the visual impaired player is exposed to a series of vocal and auditory stimulations that he has to decode and understand in a very short while. The visual impaired player has also to be able to move in the open space autonomously and to develop a series of psychomotor coordination and ballistic skills that have to allow him to be able to stop, control, conduct, pass, shoot the ball and dribbling with it as well. Sense of the space, psychomotor, ballistic and coordination skills, all indispensable for the development of the individual.
In our humble opinion, the mixed-futsal 5 will represent a solution for one of the most significative difficulties in the development of the futsal 5 for VIP: the lack of participants. Fortunately, the number of totally blind people is decreased in comparison with the past two decades. This, together with the disappearing of special institutes for blinds and the special education, has made more difficult to find six or seven visually impaired players in order to create a team. The reduced number of visually impaired players on the court will make easier the creation of a team and, for a future perspective, the creation of more competitive national leagues/championships.
Another obstacle regarding finding young visually impaired players is often represented by the opposition of children’s parents and their diffidence toward the sport, scarred by the virulence of the tackles and by the dangers that every sport brings with it. Also, under this point of view, the implementation of the mixed-futsal 5 might represent a considerable input for overcoming that diffidence and fear thanks to the presence on the field of three sighted players which makes the game safer, limiting the possibilities of injuries to the minimum.
Last but not least, it has to be underlined that the aforementioned sport discipline may became a very strong means of integration, beyond the practical physical benefits for those who will be practicing it. In this sense, it will be necessary the involvement and the cooperation of intermediate actors as the association dealing with the topic and Schools.
Unfortunately, in most of the cases, the physical activity period represents a traumatic moment for the ones carrying a disability; the disabled, due to his physical limits, cannot take part in the sport activities undertaken by his/her classmates and this contributes to increase his/her sense of marginalization and deep dejection. It is exactly in this kind of contexts that the opportunity to play an inclusive sport discipline as the mixed-futsal 5 has to brake in with all its innovative energy and enthusiasm. Thanks to the effort and the collaboration of school’s headmasters and physical education teachers who deal with visual impaired children and youngsters, the physical education periods could stop seeing disabled children sitting on a bench with sorrowful and lost eyes and start seeing them as main actors of a fun activity which might as well increase their psychomotor development and their inclusion with their classmates. The disabled child will stop being considered, in the collective school or class imaginary, only as a person seeking for help and assistance but he will be an active actor within an activity in which interact, compete, cooperate, grow and help the world around growing with him. In the incredible technic gesture of a visually impaired child or youngster who scores a goal against a sighted of its own age we do not see the overcoming of an architectural barrier but its complete tearing down. Thanks to this new sport discipline, it is possible.