Athletes from the U.S. men's blind soccer team pose for a photo during a friendly against Canada in Chula Vista, Calif.
Katie Smith likes to tell the story about how she signed up for VI skiing as a graduate student years ago, thinking the VI stood for “very important.”
What Smith didn’t realize until later was that she had agreed to be a guide for visually impaired skiers. It was her awkward introduction to working with blind athletes, and before long she developed a passion for it.
As a former high school soccer player, Smith was excited to learn about blind soccer when she attended a U.S. Association of Blind Athletes soccer camp in 2018. The sport combined her love of soccer with her desire to coach visually impaired athletes.
“I did intramurals in college but nothing competitive,” said Smith, who started playing soccer as a kid growing up in West Chester, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati. “And so it was just good to get back into (soccer) and then being like, ‘Oh, it’s with athletes who are blind and visually impaired, which I already love working with.’
“It’s just like a match made in heaven.”
The stakes are growing higher now for Smith, who is coach of the U.S. blind soccer men’s national team. Blind soccer has been a Paralympic sport since 2004. But, the Americans have never fielded a team — a fact that will change in the next five years when the U.S., as the host nation, gets an automatic berth into the Paralympic Games Los Angeles 2028.
Smith has assembled a coaching staff and a roster that includes eight players and two alternates as they prepare to make their debut on the world’s largest stage in Los Angeles. Though there isn’t a U.S. women’s national team right now, Smith said the Americans expect to field a women’s team by 2028, too.
“I honestly think once 2028 happens, the game is just going to explode from blind athletes hearing from all over the country a little bit more about USA having this sport in the Paralympics,” Smith said.