GB’s Dan Roper makes selection for IBSA European A Championships after injury at World Games cast doubt over his appearance.
During the IBSA World Games 2023 Dan Roper, a Great Britain goalball athlete, suffered a fracture to his fibular which put his position as a starting line-up player at the Euros in doubt.
Dan, 33 from March in Cambridgeshire, has fought back from injury to be selected for IBSA’s European Championships to be held in Montenegro 6 – 17 December the final chance to secure instant qualification at Paris 2024 for the squad.
We caught up with Dan to find out about his recovery and journey as a GB goalballer:
“Recovery has been better than expected. Initially I wasn’t sure if I would make selection and the thought of not playing at the Euros was really disappointing. This spurred me on to do everything I could to rehabilitate myself in the hope of making the squad.
“The Euros are important to me as I was there in 2017 playing for GB Men and it’s the first time since our promotion to the A division that we’ll play the Euro As once more. I’ve played for GB for ten years as a starting line-up player and the thought of missing out ignited a fire in me to do everything I could to recover well,” said Dan.
Speaking about what playing for Great Britain means to Dan, he admits it’s hard to put it into words “it means more to me than words can describe. Goalball is my life’s calling and there is nothing that can persuade me to stop. I’m not paid professionally so it does cost me a lot financially, but I can’t step away”
Dan had to overcome mindset challenges as well as the physical rehabilitation whilst in recovery. During his six weeks in cast, Dan had to make peace with the fact that doing nothing is sometimes the most productive thing you can do.
“Support from my daughter and partner really helped me to stay grounded and to notice the improvements week-to-week”
As an elite athlete, Dan trains several times a week with throwing sessions, strength and conditioning, cardio, goalball club sessions and GB training camps. Going from this to nothing was obviously a huge step back in activity for the athlete.
Having got the all-clear to return to training, Dan says “I had to work hard to return strength to my leg muscles, they had suffered a lot of wastage during my downtime. When I returned to GB camp I only played one game the first day, and a game and a half the second. Thankfully my hard work and rest paid off and the ankle felt good!”
Group training sessions are key to any goalball player’s development and Dan uses these as a chance to work on his defence skills. By maximising the time with others to boost communication and defence skills, Dan can prioritise focusing on shooting skills in his own training time.
Talking about the group and solo split in training Dan says “defence is hard to improve on your own, but when I’m at home I work on my shots. I probably spend 70% of my time improving my existing set of shots and 30% working on new variations”.
Dan credits his achievements in goalball to his determination and hard work. As a regular top goalscorer Dan says “I never give up. Even when the game is down and out there may still be a goal to score. During the SEGL (Saltinis & European Goalball Club Association Champions League) I scored the last goal with the last shot in the last game against Finland. I was level with another player to win top goalscorer but was determined to get that one goal.”
Determination alone isn’t the only reason Dan has reached great heights in his goalball career. Hard work, experience and lots of practice have been key to his success. “Most of my achievements have been earned through effort. I train hard and dedicate my life to goalball and the results show for themselves” added Dan.
Everyone who plays goalball has to wear blacked out eyeshades. This levels the playing field and means other senses such as communication are key. On and off the court Dan and his teammates focus on clear, concise communication to match the speed of the game. Explaining how this works Dan says “We often cut out words or cut them right down. Off court we’ll discuss acronyms we could use, and on court we want to be effective with our voices. My brother plays goalball and is called Dom so I might just say ‘Do’ to cut down the time it takes to say the word”.
Dan’s experience of goalball is as part of a family affair with the sport. Whilst Dan was the first to get involved, his brother Joe also plays for GB, and brother Dom for Fen Tigers with mum Emma as a coach. A competitive streak clearly runs through the family with Dan commenting “We all love goalball, it’s a really positive experience having my family so closely involved. We love to compete whether it’s a win or a loss, we just have a great time focusing on the game”.
As well as competing internationally for GB, Dan also competes for Fen Tigers in the European club leagues with Joe and Dom his brothers. The club decided to push for the this so that Dom could get the taste for international goalball without playing for GB.
Dan’s sporting story almost didn’t happen.
Diagnosed with a congenital eye condition aged five, Dan only had one friend growing up. In his own words he admits he was “very isolated and never went out anywhere that could be dark, not the pub or clubs or anywhere”.
At 21 Dan joined RNC (Royal National College for the Blind) where goalball was on the activity schedule. At that point Dan didn’t even know a person like him could play sport, or that there were sports adapted or designed for him.
He soon met his partner Laura at RNC. Laura played cricket, so Dan decided to have a go. “Cricket wasn’t for me, so it was suggested I have a go at blind football. Putting the blindfold on changed everything – I could move and play the sport really well!” said Dan. From here Dan gave goalball a try and got hooked straight away.
A chance clash in schedules meant that Dan eventually chose goalball over football and he’s not regretted a minute of it. Eventually Dan attended a Talent ID day and became part of the high-performance pathway through Goalball UK.
After leaving RNC and moving from Hereford to March, Dan set about creating a goalball club so he could continue to play regularly and get his family involved. Fen Tigers Goalball Club was born and they are currently the Goalfix Cup champions in the Goalball UK Super League.
When asked about his position as a role model to younger blind or partially sighted people, Dan says “I don’t see myself as a role model as such. I will always pass on any knowledge and help other players out with tips and skill sharing. I really admire Adam Knott (London 2012 Paralympian and founder of Winchester Goalball Club) and try to emulate him as much as possible. So, I guess you could say I have a role model, and I try to be like him”.
For Dan and anyone on the GB squad, the Paralympics are the ultimate goal. GB haven’t qualified for the Paralympics since London 2012, but Dan says he would be happy to “get there as a player or a coach one day”.
Winning gold in December’s Euro As would mean automatic qualification to Paris 2024 for the Men and Women’s goalball teams. However, Dan says he would also be delighted to play at the next IBSA World Championships.
Speaking about these major events, Dan reflects “Even if I stopped now, I’d be happy with my achievements, I could hold my head high. Playing for Great Britain is my greatest achievement, and I can retire happy knowing that I have already achieved and established myself as a good global player by getting top goalscorer at international tournaments. Playing for Fen Tigers, even in the European leagues is all training for Great Britain to help me achieve my biggest goal of going to the Paralympics and playing well there.”