Football coach Edwin Roch received a fair share of criticisms when his peers learned about his intention to coach blind footballers.
“They couldn’t understand how visually impaired people could play football and advised me not to waste my time. But deep down, I felt I had to do my part to help these special individuals,” says Roch, 49, during an interview in Kuala Lumpur recently.
It’s been six years since Roch took on the role of a volunteer coach for the Malaysian blind football team.
And it has been one of the best decisions he ever made. “Although blind, these individuals are very skillful and passionate about football. They have not let their physical disabilities stop them from giving their best.”
For 15 years, Roch has coached football squads like Arsenal Soccer Schools Malaysia, Junior Soccer School Malaysia and Asian Football Confederation’s Dream Asia Foundation, a project to introduce football to underprivileged children in KL.
However, coaching blind footballers has been a new learning curve and an eye-opener for Roch.
“Yes, I initially had my reservations about working with visually impaired players. At the same time, the idea of the blind playing football seemed intriguing. That served as a turning point for me to help these special players hone their skills,” says Roch, an office administrator at an education centre in Subang Jaya.
Roch coaches the national five-a-side blind football team. His players are between the ages of 18 and 34, comprising students from Universiti Malaya, telephone operators, and masseuses.
They are also part of the Pan-Disability Football Club (PDFC) – a football outfit that conducts community coaching for people with disabilities – which is sponsored by CIMB Foundation.
A father-of-two, Roch believes intellectually disabled individuals should be given the opportunity to play the popular sport, just like others.
“Despite their disability, they are a talented lot. If visually impaired footballers can play football, there’s no excuse why others can’t pick up a sport,” says Roch, who was roped in by FDFC founder and football coach Sunny Shalesh to train the team.
Blind football is played at a similar pace as the one played by sighted individuals. The ball contains ball bearings which makes a rattling sound. This allows players to locate the ball by sound.
Roch coaches the special footballers twice a day on weekdays. In the mornings (7am-9am), he trains them at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. In the evenings (4.30pm-5.30pm), Roch guides them in lifting weights at the Paralympics Sports Complex in Kampung Pandan, KL.
Even though it is far for Roch to travel between work and the training venues, he has no complaints in going the extra mile for his players.
“To excel in this game, players must have intensive training, good hearing and communication skills (with teammates and opponents) to avoid any collisions. Despite their disability, they are so determined,” says the devoted volunteer coach.
Roch and Sunny’s dedication has been fruitful. At the 2015 Asian Blind Football Championship, the special football team placed fifth. The same year, they clinched gold at the 2015 Singapore Para Games. In 2017, they took home the bronze trophy at the 2017 Asean Para Games.
Roch’s dream is to see the team compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. The qualifying round takes place in Pattaya, Thailand next month and Roch is gearing them up to meet other big boys like China, Iran, and India.
“The plus point of our team is that they can defend and attack. I hope they will shine and make Malaysia proud,” says Roch.