U.S.-Brazil Exchange Expands Coach Training for Blind Athletes

As executive director of the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA), Mark Lucas has met scores of people involved in sports—he’s even met Brazilians. “The Brazilian people are so incredibly friendly and insanely passionate about their soccer, I mean football,” he joked.

But now, through Partners of the Americas’ Sport for Community: Emerging Leaders in Action Program, Lucas has met someone who truly stands out. “Periodically my path will cross with a younger professional who has exceptional abilities, characteristics, and work ethic,” he said.
In this case, that young man is Gabriel Mayr.
Mayr co-founded the organization Urece Sports and Culture for the Blind, which uses athletics as a means to improve the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired in Rio de Janeiro. Since 2005, Urece has supported athletes in sports such as swimming and goalball. 
Paired as mentor and mentee, Lucas and Mayr are collaborating on projects to help further Mayr’s work in Rio—particularly as it relates to soccer, or football.

Funded by SportsUnited within the U.S. State Department, the Sport for Community: Emerging Leaders in Action Program transforms sports into positive results for local communities and marginalized groups. As a part of that mission, mentees emerging leaders in the Sport for Development field in Brazil spentd three weeks with their mentors in the United States in October 2014—a fact that brought Mayr to Lucas’ office at 1 Olympic Plaza in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For the month of October 2014, Mayr worked closely with the five-member USABA staff to learn about its organizational structure and strategies such as governance, fund-raising policies, and sports programs. At the end of his experience, Mayr outlined a project to benefit both USABA and Urece.

In that, Mayr only impressed Lucas more.

“One of the many reasons why Gabe is an exceptional leader is because he has the ability to think beyond day-to-day operations,” Lucas shared. “He has the leadership ability to understand the needs of the blind community and fulfill those needs.”

But to complete his project, Mayr needed to return to Brazil, where Lucas would later join him in April 2015.

During Lucas’ visit to Rio and the Urece offices, he and Mayr executed the bulk of his project: shooting an instructional film for coaching blind 5-on-5 soccer, a game that currently doesn’t exist in the U.S.

With a professional film production crew, top-notch facility, blind athlete actors, and script prepared by Mayr, Lucas is sure the video will gain success not only in the Americas but also globally within the International Blind Sports Federation. In fact, Lucas ensured that the content and presentation would meet standards for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Mobile Coaching Platform, which will further expand its reach.

But the project doesn’t end there, as Lucas explained, “We also are planning strategies to market and promote the project and secure funding dollars to form teams.”

Whatever the outcome, both Lucas and Mayr take pride in their newfound working relationship, and they agree that their collaboration through the Sport for Community: Emerging Leaders Program has been one that will yield substantial gains for blind football—or soccer—athletes, no matter what they call the game.

Edited By: Patrick Bradley