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Athlete Blog

Four things all coaches should consider...

September 16, 2016

Four things all coaches should consider when working with deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes:

  1. Know the athlete’s hearing level
  2. This is an important bit of information every coach must know prior to working with a deaf or hard-of-hearing athlete. Every athlete is different. The words “deaf and hard of hearing” cross a wide spectrum, ranging from complete deafness to the slightest decibel difference. Not everyone will hear the same amount of noise, or as clearly, or be able to decipher it. Some athletes use hearing aids or cochlear implants, and some don’t.

    Everyone will react differently to a certain coaching style. Coaches will need to understand how and what the athlete hears, and adjust accordingly. Some athletes benefit from auditory cueing; some from receiving visual cues. For the athletes who rely on auditory cueing, it is suggested that the coaches pair auditory cues with visual cues to ensure that the athlete understands what the coaches are trying to say. For example, if a coach is trying to tell a rower to adjust his hand position higher or lower, the coach can physically gesture where the hands should be in addition to the verbal cues.

  3. Determine the athlete’s preferred communication mode
  4. As mentioned earlier, everyone is different. There are athletes who prefer to use American Sign Language, “sim-com” (sign and talk at the same time), or use their voices only. Each athlete will interact with their coaches differently, and it is important that coaches prepare themselves beforehand. This helps the communication become efficient on and off the field (or court). Athletes pay attention to how much coaches invest in their communication development, and that investment will have a direct impact on their “buy-in” process.

    This doesn’t apply only to the coaches, but for hearing players as well- the team’s chemistry hinges on open and clear communication between players. This doesn’t mean everyone should be proficient in sign language, but it is beneficial for teammates to be able to get a better idea of how deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes feel, what they hear and see on a daily basis.

    As a part of a mini social experiment, I’ve been trying to have one player from the RIT women’s soccer program wear a pair of noise-reducing earplugs a day to see what kind of things they miss. It’s one way to help hearing athletes understand their teammates on a deeper level, which further cultivates an inclusive environment as the training or the season goes on.

  5. Utilize visual aids in the coaching arsenal
  6. The majority of the people out there are visual learners, and using visual aids will prove to be imperative in deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes’ development. Visual aids can mean many different things ranging from gestures, drawing up drills or plays on a board, signed coaching cues, game film and play calls. This doesn’t only benefit deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes, but makes things easier for everyone to understand, including the interpreters.

    For example, there was a situation where a coach used to run practices and explain drills by voice, and the interpreter had to try to capture what the coach was trying to explain…and it was quite complex. The interpreter became confused, which only confused the deaf athlete. To solve that miscommunication, the coach began drawing up what the drills should look like. The visual diagram not only helped everyone, but boosted practice efficiency because everyone understood what to do right away instead of the coach trying to explain the drills and doing it a few times before everyone picked up on it. This adjustment allowed the team to get more reps and other drills in and improve as a team.

  7. Know your go-to coaching cues
  8. After many years as a student-athlete at the middle school, high school, college and professional levels, I’ve noticed that coaches all have certain cues that they frequent on a daily basis. They all had their cues, and in order for coaches to effectively work with deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes, they need to be aware of their own styles, philosophies and cues.

    For example, I’ve been the recipient of a common cue in the weight room. My strength coach kept telling me to push my knees out. Sometimes when I’m performing squats, my knees’ position in the squat might become too narrow, prompting my coach to cue “knees out.”

    It makes communication more efficient if the coach asks the student-athlete how to sign cues like “knees out.” In my case, I taught the coach to directly sign the cue to me instead of utilizing an interpreter. Over time, my trainer and I used basic hand shapes and gestures as an informal system of communication. As the training programs changed and the exercises varied, my coach and I got creative in communicating new coaching cues by using handshapes, to go along with words such as “sets,” “repetitions” and numbers.

    Developing this kind of communication system is easy, flexible and can be applicable to virtually every sport possible. For the coaches, learning how to sign or gesture cues can prove to be pivotal in developing the player-coach relationship without relying on access services.

And that’s all for this week! I hope you find this to be helpful. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at! I look forward to connecting with you.