Tips for Guiding a Blind or Visually Impaired (VI) Athlete

If you’re running with a VI runner for the first time, you might feel a little nervous about the whole thing. That’s not unusual, and we want you to feel comfortable. You will be paired with a runner and their guide to gain an opportunity to see how guiding works. This is a good time to ask questions and take a short turn guiding while with an experienced guide.


In order from left to right: Guide Amy Harris (in a black jacket ,headlamp, and reflective vest), Athlete Theresa Khayyam (in a blue jacket, headband, and reflective vest, JoAnne Sacks (in a grey shirt, headlamp, and reflective, vest), and Jana Bergman ( in a lime green Achilles shirt and hold gloves) all hands are in the airIt’s good practice to talk to the runner you will be guiding before you run together for the first time. This will give you and your VI running partner time to discuss strategies on how to make the run go as smooth as possible. Things to ask your athlete before you start:

How much do you usually run?

What is your regular pace?

What guiding method do you prefer (e.g., tether, hold elbow)?

Do you like to talk or listen to music when you run?

What side do you prefer to run on?

Can you please describe your loss of vision and how it affects running?

What cues (e.g., verbal, physical) and assistance work for you during a run?

Any special things I need to know?

It is generally helpful and appreciated by athletes when guides point out things of interest. Different athletes like different amounts of talk and information. Simply ask how much information is enough and how much is too much.

Regarding music, it is good practice if an athlete is listening to music to keep one ear bud out so they can hear directions and other environmental sounds. It is strongly discouraged for guides to wear earbuds as this distracts from their primary responsibility of keeping the athlete safe.

During Guiding

  • Start slowly when you first begin guiding. This gives you a chance to get familiar with this new concept or person.
  • The VI runner should set the pace, unless the VI runner asks you to.
  • Be alert and communicate.
  • Be aware of what is ahead of both you and your athlete at all times including such things as distances, elevation, obstacles and things in your peripheral vision.
  • It is helpful when giving directions, to give at least 3 steps notice of the event so as to give prior warning (e.g., curb up in 3, 2, 1, up).Athlete Ricky Jones on left wearing an Achilles shirt and blue shorts and Guide Peter Pressman on right wearing an Achilles shirt, blue shorts, and white hat
  • Gently push the arm of the runner when you need to move in the direction of your runner. When you need your athlete to move in your direction, gently pull on the tether or arm. Always pair with spoken direction.
  • Inform your athlete of things you are approaching such as narrowing path, speed hump, traffic lights, and obstacles.
  • Inform your athlete in advance of any terrain changes such as going from pavement to dirt path, puddles ahead, and going across the grass.
  • If you need to run in single file briefly, the guide should go first and lead the athlete through. Give your athlete fair warning.
  • When using a tether, the length is long enough for arm movement and short enough to be responsive to directional changes. It is safer to loop your fingers through the loop instead of looping it around your wrist, to allow either the guide or athlete to let go safely and avoid injury should one of them fall.
  • Inform your athlete of potential hazards (e.g., slippery bridges, gaps, puddles, potholes, bike riders, strollers)
Some common directional commands include:
Left/Right – When directional changes are neededCurb up/Curb down – When approaching curbsDuck – When athlete needs to duck down (e.g., low tree limb in path), let them know when they can safely resume upright posture also.Uneven ground –Give athlete warning when ground is uneven (e.g., road work causing bumpy roads)Speed humps – Give athlete advance warning for humps, bumps in the road

Tip: You can practice with other fellow guide runners by running blindfolded and allowing others to guide you. This will enable you to feel what it’s like running with little or no vision, and you can make the necessary adjustments when guiding a visually impaired runner. Keep in mind, however, that a runner with VI has skills and experiences related to their disability that you cannot begin to experience after a trial run blindfolded. They have more acute skills and are likely much more tuned into changes in surfaces, environmental sounds, the wind, words being said, and things around them in general. This practice might give you a little more awareness and sensitivity to what the VI runner experiences.

After Guiding

  • Help your athlete get water, snacks if available
  • Talk about how the run went and if any changes would be helpful
  • Make sure your athlete is safe before you leave (e.g., with group, at community center, has ride)