Goalball Interview with a Paralympian

With the Olympics and Paralympics on our doorstep, I decided to do a short interview with my friend Mike who has the honour to represent Great Britain as part of the Goalball team. He has kindly agreed to give my readers insight into how the preparations are going, offer some advice and motivation for those who are looking for some inspiration to carry on or to get started with a healthy lifestyle or workout routine.

Mike used to be member of my church and home group before he got married and he offers a unique Christian perspective on playing a competitive type of sport, performance, facing challenges, dealing with failure and working hard to realise lifetime ambitions.

Mike and his sister Anna in full Goalball-gear

I have to admit I had no idea that a game called Goalball existed until I met Mike. This is a team sport designed for people with eyesight problems. This is how it works: participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded in it into the opponents’ net. Teams alternate throwing or rolling the ball from one end of the playing area to the other, and players remain in the area of their own goal in both defence and attack. Players must use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball. Games consist of two 12 minute halves. Blindfolds  allow partially sighted players to compete on an equal footing with blind players.

goalball

The game is on!

As we can imagine, participating in such a grand event requires a lot of commitment and consistent training. Even though most of us are not so lucky as Mike to be able to compete or can’t call ourselves professional athletes, the majority of us do have some kind of plan that we are trying to follow in order to achieve something, whether it is weight loss, making more money, or something as simple as sending emails more regularly to our mum. However, things can get difficult when we find ourselves bogged down by a variety of other commitments or simply wake up to a day when we feel under the weather, tired, grumpy and not the least bit inclined to stick to our plan. So first of all, I was looking to find out what keeps Mike on track with his training regime:

What motivates you to keep up with your training routine on days when you simply don’t feel like training, e.g. you are tired, grumpy etc.?

MS: I think you need to have a goal in a mind, something to focus on. At the moment the main focus for my team is preparing for the Paralympics. Before getting into the Games, our long term focus was working on giving ourselves a chance to be able to participate in the Games.

You need to have some kind of a goal – no matter whether it is losing weight, being able to run further etc. Knowing what you want to achieve will help you resist the temptation of skipping your training.

Obviously training at this level can take up most of the athletes’ time and with the Games being so near, every training day counts more than ever. At the same time, they still have their own lives outside training and it may be ever so challenging to divide time between training commitments and family and friends. I was keen to find out how Mike can juggle between training with his team and spending quality time with his family without one being the detriment to the other.

How do you find balance between spending time with your family (wife) and training for the Paralympics?

MS: All these things are every important and sometimes one thing suffers because of the effort you need to put into your training. I have to admit I find this very tricky sometimes. It is important to have friends and a wife who understand and appreciate what you are doing.

There is a lot at stake at the Games – years of preparation and hard work will finally come to fruition and the best efforts will be rewarded with a shiny medal representing prestige and glory. Unfortunately, things can go wrong along the way – we may hit a plateau, get injured, feel weighed down by work issues, the list could go on. Things could be so bad that ultimately, we may even lose sight of our ultimate goal and question our purpose. So I wanted to find out how Mike and his team have weathered these storms in the past and what helped them to get where they are today.

How do you deal with failure in sports – e.g. there was a period when your team hit a plateau, what prevented you from giving it all up?

MS: There was a period in our team in 2010 when we kept losing frequently, and that coincided with a lot of members quitting the team including our coach. Those were hard times and we were losing faith that good things would start to happen. What helped me to get through that period was my belief that there was a good purpose behind everything. We are always going to have difficulties in life, and in sports, but we just need to carry on, even if just for the love of doing it.

Just the pure thought of my performance being broadcast to the whole wide world and then being micro-analysed by sports experts makes me feel very nervous. Personally, I still have butterflies in my stomach before every running race I do and this kind of reminds me of the way I used to feel at school before exams – a feeling many of us are way too familiar with. I was wondering if there is a way to get rid of these butterflies…

How do you overcome the nerves before a major sporting event?

MS: It can be hard to overcome nerves before a major sporting event and the pressure can really get to you sometimes. What is important is that you try to enjoy yourself, relax and take each moment as it comes! Personally, I try to rely on the calming effect of praying and being filled with God’s Holy Spirit. I know that no matter whether we succeed or fail in the game, we cannot fail God. I also try to use a technique where I tap acupunctural points on my body to reduce tension. I find that it helps everyone to have some kind of ”calming routine” that they have tried and tested.

We all have different talents and we may excel in one thing and fail in another. The question that has always been on my mind is whether one is born to be a great athlete or whether anyone can make themselves become a great athlete? I was hoping Mike will be able to offer some insights on whether hard work or lucky genes enough on their own.

Do you think one is born to be a great athlete  or do you think that greatness comes from hard work and sweat?

MS: I would think it is a combination of the two. You do need actual talent to become one of the best ones in your sport, just having all the will in the world to be the best will not help if there is no natural talent to at least a certain extent. Even if you have talent, you need to work hard at it, because there is plenty of talented people around you. I think talent is wasted without putting effort into working on it. 

We all have something in our lives that we are very passionate about. For some people it may be perfecting your garden, setting up a new charity, campaigning for human rights, collecting stamps or in my case, running competitively. No matter what our passion is, it fuels us and has some kind of impact on different areas of our lives or even on the lives of others close to us. I was looking to find out what Mike has gained from playing Goalball.

How has playing a competitive team sport impacted other areas of your life?

MS: The biggest thing for our team in 2011 was getting a new coach. He happens to be a Christian, and I find him very inspirational. There was a time when I used to worry a lot, about things I had little or no control over. My new coach once asked me ”Where is your faith, if you believe what you believe in, why don’t you act it out?” He was referring to my faith that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him. I tried to apply this in sports by not worrying so much but relying on God when it comes to playing goalball, in my personal life I feel have become stronger as a man in my marriage, and now I am looking forward to what the future holds for me.

I have always admired people who have managed to become the best in what they do, such as athletes making it to the Olympic/Paralympic Games or amateur athletes winning local races. Having read many bio’s and success stories, I have found one thing in common for all – it is not only about sweat and hard work but also about adopting the right mindset. I have also found that having a “winning” or “champion” mindset can make a huge difference in all walks of life, not only in the field of sports. I was curious to find out what this meant for Mike.

What do you think are the elements of a ”champion mindset” and how would you apply this in other areas of your life?

MS: Hmmm, I would say this would include working towards a set goal, an ability to detach yourself from everything that is a distraction from the goal that you are focusing on, a kind of ”ruthlessness” in your attitude with which you approach obstacles, being well-grounded in the knowledge of what or who makes you successful.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that Mike just like myself is a Bible-believing Christian and I am conscious that some people who do not necessarily call themselves Christians may perceive or assume a controversy between living a humble, obedient life in the service of others (like Mother Theresa) and being competitive or putting lots of effort into working on our physical appearance. So I asked Mike the big question:

What do you think God thinks about us working on our physique and keeping fit?

MS: I believe that our bodies have been given to us as a wonderful gift from God and there are lots of ways to use our bodies. I believe God created us to be hard workers, and for many of us, working on our physical strength is part of this. I can only see an issue with keeping fit if it becomes an obsession and it starts to take over other areas of your life, such as your personal relationships etc. I definitely believe that working your body in the right way can be a very positive thing in the eyes of God.

With the Royal Jubilee, the European Cup and Wimbledon behind us, we have finally come to the Olympics. However, although many people are wildly enthusiastic, others are very negative and this raises the question of whether the Olympics and such major sporting events are the cure for many of the problems the world is facing today. One of the symbolic meanings of the Olympic Games is bringing the nations together in unity and celebrating peace. Of course, inevitably the Olympic Games have many great aspects, such as: promoting excellence, celebrating effort, and providing enjoyment and generate enthusiasm etc., but I am wondering if we are giving too much importance to it?

From a Christian perspective, do you think the Olympics/Paralympics has the potential to help world peace and unite the nations?

MS: My view is that the Olympics and the Paralympics are a wonderful opportunity for togetherness, and having a common aim to work towards. The Games are definitely a positive thing but unfortunately, many worldwide issues such as conflicts and international debates etc. are not going to be sorted out through the Games. I believe that true peace comes from God and when Jesus’s second coming happens that is when we can really afford thinking about world peace as such. 

If you would like to read more about Mike’s story, you may want to visit the website of the Idea Magazine. If you would like to learn more about Goalball and how it all started for Mike and his sister, please watch the following video on Youtube:

Thank you, Mike and the best of luck for you and your team for the Paralympics and for the future!

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