Playing in the Paralympics
The U.S. Paralympic National Soccer Team will be playing in the Cerebral Palsy International Sports & Recreation Association (CPISRA) International Football 7-a-side Championships to be held October 20 through November 1, 2009 in Arnhem, Netherlands. The team has been representing the U.S. on the soccer field for 25 years, and has participated in the Paralympics in Atlanta, Sydney and Athens, before missing out on the Beijing games in 2008. They are now focused on getting back to the Paralympics in London in 2012 and the tournament in Holland is an important step toward that goal.
The team is led by head coach Jay Hoffman, whose credentials include being the former head coach of the Boston Breakers of the now defunct WUSA, and an assistant coach for the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup champion U.S. Women’s National Team.
In 1984, the same time the U.S. Men’s National Team was emerging on the scene, soccer debuted as a Paralympic sport. The U.S., however, did not first qualify for the event until the 1992 Barcelona Games.
The Paralympic Games itself are widely misunderstood. Often mistaken for the Special Olympics, the athletes struggle to showcase their skills while fighting societal stigmas. Paralympic soccer differs from the traditional 11-a-side game. The game is played with seven players (six field players and a goalkeeper) in two 30-minute halves on a smaller field. The offside rule has been eliminated and under-arm throw-ins are permitted for participants unable to perform conventional overhead throw-ins.
To be eligible, players must be ambulatory and have a physical challenge from a diagnosis of cerebral palsy (CP) or from having suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Players are classified (classes 5 through 8) according to the severity of their disability and the laws of the game restrict the number of each class allowed on the field at any given time.
“We are always seeking ways to increase the awareness of the program, which will hopefully result in the identification of more players and the development of an infrastructure that will serve us well into the future,” says coach Hoffman.
More information about eligibility and the classification of athletes is available at usparalympics.org.