I’m Michael Payne – Manager and Head Coach at The Derbyshire Ducks Goalball Club, and I’m also a volunteer official.

I first discovered goalball through a friend of mine in 2015. I was suffering with depression at the time and he thought the game would be good for my mental health. I’ve been playing ever since and joined as a volunteer official in 2017.

In my early adult life I was very active, playing football 4 times a week as well as badminton and cricket. But this slowed as time went by and in 2013 I slipped into depression following challenging circumstances at work and the loss of a close relative. In the months and years that followed I managed to go from a healthy weight of 9 stones to being classified as “very obese” at nearly 17 stones. This was mostly because I was finding it hard to leave the house and my eating habit, particularly comfort eating, remained unchanged. Safe to say, when I discovered Goalball, I was not active at all.

Since finding goalball my life has changed dramatically. I’ve regained my confidence thanks to the inclusiveness of the game, making new friends and engaging with all walks of life. This new found self- belief has lead me back to work in the care industry and on a path back to a healthy weight; I’ve already lost 3 stone. It’s safe to say that without goalball none of this would’ve been possible.

Although I’m fully sighted, I can play at a club level and the eye shades mean I am on an equal playing field to everyone on the court. Goalball is a great leveller and anyone can get involved.

Indeed, goalball has also been invaluable to the people around me. Since joining myself, I’ve introduced both of my brothers, one of my sisters, my Mum and my visually impaired Dad to the game. In addition to my relatives, I’ve also introduced 3 children I support from work, who now all play/train regularly. Although we all play at different levels, it’s great having a sport that we can all compete in and share together. I’m now working on my father-in-law, 2 other children from work and 4 work colleagues to see if they’ll get the bug!

Other than introducing my family to the game, I’d say my two proudest moments within goalball have to be earning South Yorkshire’s Player of the Season Award in 2017 and coaching the Derbyshire and South Yorkshire Composite novice team to a silver medal in April 2018.

I’m also extremely chuffed about the performance of my team, The Derbyshire Ducks, this year. It was our first season at intermediate level and I’m really pleased that despite our relative inexperience, we’ve managed to avoid finishing last at half of our tournaments. Next season we’ll look to build on this and establish ourselves as a force to be reckoned with!

If anyone out there is considering playing or needs a new challenge, just have a go! You wouldn’t buy a bed without testing the mattress and you wouldn’t buy shoes without trying them on first. Goalball is very much the same. You could watch YouTube videos. You could go watch a domestic or international tournament. But you won’t know if you love goalball until you give it a try.