Children with visual impairments getting specialist football training

Maggie, Abbie and Freya with Danny Hutch VI football coach
Maggie, Abbie and Freya with Danny Hutch VI football coach

For children with a visual impairment taking part in sports is not always easy.

Now a group of Derry children whose vision is impaired, are receiving specialist football training, from a coach who knows what it is like not to have perfect sight.

Local woman, Kathleen Simms, has two children - seven-year-old Maggie and four-year-old Peter- who have Albinism. The congenital disorder affects the production of melanin, the pigment that colours skin, hair and eyes.

People with Albinism have a reduced amount of melanin, or no melanin at all, and this can affect their colouring and their eyesight.

Maggie and Peter both have quite poor eyesight and are very light sensitive.

“Everything affects their sight. If they are tired or sick it gets worse. Maggie and Peter also have Nystagamus so their eyes are constantly moving.”

“They don’t know any better though because that is what they were born with.”

Kathleen said there was no provision in the North West for children with visual impairments to take part in sport.

“I have wee nephews who are out playing football every week and my children wanted to take part. I approached my uncle Gerard Bradley who is a coach with local club, Trojans and asked why there was nothing for children with a visual impairment.

“The idea grew from there,” she said. “He realised that everyone should have the same opportunities.”

“We contacted the Irish Football Association and Trojans kindly said they would be willing to try and set a team up. Four coaches went for specialist training, including one - Danny Hutch - who is visually impaired himself. He understands how difficult it is for young children to take part in sports.”

The IFA funded specialist equipment for visually impaired football and also covered the cost of hiring a hall for training.

The current funding lasts for 12 weeks, but Kathleen hopes to get it extended if more children take part.

“Maggie and Peter love it. It is making them feel included and be part of a team. It is also an opportunity to make friends with other children who have visual impairments and is proving to be a great confidence builder.”

Cherie Coyle’s nine-year-old daughter Freya is also a member of the team.

Freya also has Albinism and has just 30 per cent vision.

“It will never get any better, she is registered as severely sighted,” Cherie explained. “It doesn’t stop her she has great willpower and she gets on with it. It does make things more difficult for her and wears tinted glasses all the time and dark sunglasses on a sunny day.

“Freya doesn’t have any depth perception and her peripheral vision is also affected. If people were running towards her, she wouldn’t see them until the last minute.”

Cherie says that as a result Freya needs to be very careful when she is playing out on the street of in the playground.

“She loves sport and she would have a go at anything, because she is very confident and bubbly. When she takes part in games with children who have full sight she would sometimes be a bit down in the dumps because they are faster and don’t always understand that she can’t see the ball.”

Cherie said it is ‘brilliant’ a football team has been set up for children with a visual impairment.

“They are all at the one level and no one is judging anyone, because they all have poor sight. It has really helped Freya’s confidence and she has made new friends. It has given Freya a chance to do something she loves with children who have the exact same sight as her.”

Cherie explained that the ball used by the children doesn’t bounce and stays at their feet.

“They are being taught general football skills one at a time, like dribbling the ball and scoring goals. The children come out of the training full of energy.

“We really hope that more new members will join, because Freya is dreading it coming to an end.”

The VI football training takes place every Wednesday night, between 6 and 7pm at Bishop’s Field and is open to all children with a visual impairment.