Promoting Blind Ice Hockey in the UK: Active Ambassador Nathan's Story
International Day of Disabled Person's, on Saturday 3rd December 2022, is an international awareness day, which aims to help promote empowerment and help to create real opportunities for disabled people.
As part of our own ambitions to help create real change in physical activity and sport in Oxfordshire, we were delighted to be able to sit down with Active Ambassador Nathan, to learn more about his journey in playing Blind Ice Hockey.
In his early twenties, Nathan started to play, as he explains;
"I quit playing hockey due to severe vision loss in my early 20s. In 2018 I found out about Blind Ice Hockey in Canada and went to join the Canadian National Blind Ice Hockey Tournament. Since then, I have been building Blind Ice Hockey UK to offer the sport here. We had three sessions before the pandemic and I am just about to announce some more for people to get involved in. We have had more than 20 people try the sport so far and have loads more interest".
It is clear from speaking with him that Nathan has a passion for the sport, travelling to different countries, and continents, to be able to have the opportunity to play and to continue to promote the sport both nationally and internationally.
"From the 18-20 of November, this year, I went to the Calgary at the Canadian Western Regional Tournament. Here I was able to play organised blind hockey games which I don't get opportunity to do here. I was very excited.
2 Weeks after that, 4 of us went to Finland to participate in a blind hockey training camp. This was the first time I have been to another European country to play Blind Ice Hockey and it is also the first trip where I was joined by other UK nationals. This is a very big deal and I want to keep building".
Communication is key
To further enhance his passion, Nathan wants to create opportunities for others, coaching both visually impaired and sighted players and sees communication as being key. Asked about his experiences of coaching, he tells us;
"There are certainly challenges when integrating abilities but there is certainly a lot that can be learned from doing so. I am a firm advocate for communication in team sport and this can be done at all levels, and we can all improve no matter who we train with. The players I coach love using the blind puck and are very inclusive".
It's great to hear that so many people want to get involved with the sport and that Nathan's team have an inclusive ethos. However, provisions around the UK for Blind Ice Hockey are limited, as Nathan explains. When asked what other Blind Ice Hockey provisions there are, Nathan says:
"So far, me. I am the driving force of the sessions at the moment as far as I am aware. This will change over time, I hope". This shows that there is a real need to get other opportunities set up across the country.
Knowing that people with visual impairments may face barriers to accessing Blind Ice Hockey, Nathan has a fantastic view on what some of the barriers can be, which can sometimes get overlooked.
"On the most part it is not having a disability that is limiting, in my opinion. There is so much to learn and skills to develop that the major difficulties are getting good enough. I find my skating skill often limits me more than the ability to find the puck and other players".
Focus on having fun
Nathan's ambition is to see Blind Ice Hockey at the Winter Paralympics and to get more people involved with the game. Asked what he would say to someone thinking of giving Blind Ice Hockey a go, he says;
"Take it easy and focus on having fun. The skill comes from practice and as long as you enjoy it, you will be able to improve"
Nathan is a driving force and a real pleasure to talk to. We wish him well in his journey and in his ambition to see Blind Ice Hockey at the Winter Paralympics.
"I think we need 8 national teams to make it into the Paralympics. So far, there are teams in Canada and the USA and players playing in the UK, Sweden, Finland and Russia. So things are developing, and I am doing all I can to play my part"
If you would like to get involved or try out Blind Ice Hockey, please do get in touch.