By Alison Thompson | For IBSA
Finnish men’s goalball coach Jarkko Pokkinen and his team may have been out of the limelight since 2017 but this year they are firmly focused on making it their most successful yet.
Pokkinen’s side managed to stay in the A pool when they hosted the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) Goalball European Championships A in Pajulahti two years ago with a seventh place finish.
This year they will compete again at the Euros in Rostock, Germany, from 5-14 October aiming for a better result which will hopefully lead to biggest stage of them all.
“After the 2017 championships, we’ve only played in one single tournament and had almost two years to improve our players, our skills and quality of our game. Now, we’re ready to see the results of that work”, Pokkinen explained. “Our main goal for this year is to win the European Championships and ultimately qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics”.
Competition is strong with each of the European teams looking to secure that all important place at the Paralympic Games. Defending champions and Paralympic title holders Lithuania will compete as well as Belgium and Germany, medallists from the 2018 IBSA Goalball World Championships.
But Finland will also get another chance to qualify for Tokyo 2020, which may make their European campaign a bit more relaxed.
From 2-9 July, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA, will host the 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Qualifier, with the top two teams advancing to Tokyo 2020.
“USA are the home team and know the conditions really well, so they are probably our biggest competitor” Pokkinen said.
However the team are undaunted by what lies ahead: “Qualification is always a hard situation but I hope we can take this big chance to show everybody how much stronger we are. We are patient, our defence is pretty good at best and we have enough offensive skills.”
Pokkinen achieves great satisfaction from seeing players develop both on and off the court:
“Goalball is a lifestyle to me. I get inspired from loving this great sport and it’s an honour to be part of the team. As well as that, the team get inspiration from our fans in Finland as in our eyes, they act as the fourth player on the court. And we’re inspired by ourselves and the great team we have”.
Both the Finland men and women’s goalball teams have had much success in the sport, which is played all around the world. Despite this though, it can be challenging for those interested to find a way to break into the sport.
Pokkinen’s players have found their way to the team through different routes and encourage anyone interested to find out if there is any club close to where they live that they can get involved in, as well as contacting support organisations for people with visual impairments. Social media also plays its part with more information and games available to view.
As well as finding a local club and support, personal dedication and hard work are another key part of the team’s success. As the Pokkinen explains, “One of the barriers is personal resources, because players have to work and study to earn money to practice goalball. Our national team has good resources for the practices and competitions, but individuals have to make their living and resources in their own personal life”.
That aside, and perhaps making the dedication and determination even stronger this year, the team are enjoying their journey so far and growing as a team.
“Everybody of course has a big passion for goalball and likes to share the love for the sport. The most enjoyable part though, is reaching the same objectives with a tight team spirit. Everybody has a part in the team and supporting each other is important. We spend a lot of time travelling and camping together and having the same sense of humour also plays a bit part in our success.”
The 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Qualifier will see the top two men’s and women’s teams advance to Tokyo 2020.
The gold medallist from the 2019 IBSA Goalball European Championships will also qualify.