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Athlete Blog

The psychology of deaf and hard-of-hearing student-athletes

September 23, 2016

It has always been a hobby of mine to pore over different articles, books and stories about the wonderful topic that is sports psychology.

After many years of being a student-athlete at different levels, I’ve had the opportunity to compete and interact with some of the most elite athletes in the world. Some of them were deaf and hard-of-hearing, and it recently got me thinking. The college student-athlete population in the country is quite small, but that subpopulation of deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes is microscopic. But for deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes to excel at that level and above, they have to be cut out of a unique piece of fabric. I’ve decided to try and look into how they reached down inside themselves and found their inner greatness.

Lou Spiotti, Jr., executive director of Intercollegiate Athletics at Rochester Institute of Technology, stressed the importance of “Tiger Time” to his colleagues (including myself), student-athletes and leaders. Tiger Time is not ‘on-time’. Showing up on Tiger Time means showing up 15 minutes earlier. This doesn’t mean showing up early has a correlation to success, but how that extra time can be used to improve performance. Fifteen minutes will give athletes an enormous advantage when it comes to mental preparation. RIT Men’s Soccer Hall of Famer Mike Lawson explained that, in the locker room, he would go through his practices and games in his head. He had a mental highlight reel playing over and over, and he played it whenever he had down time. Once that reel ended, he would physically attack every drill and opportunity, and capitalize on everything he learned because he knew that the results would take care of themselves.

Every great athlete will always go after an opportunity. They don’t wait for things and opportunities to come to them. That conviction to go in and make things happen is something that mirrors a blue-collar mentality. The blue-collar mentality includes an individual’s willingness to get their hands dirty, getting the job done and giving it their all. This applies to every endeavor a deaf and hard-of-hearing athlete does on a daily basis. This can mean building up the guts to approach a math tutor (I still have nightmares about it), diving on a hard gym floor for the dig during practice, getting extra drills in, or standing up for yourself.

That kind of deep conviction doesn’t always reward you on the field. Sometimes you give it all and you still fail. Lose. Botch your opportunities. There will be some moments when everything goes upside down. That kind of adversity can scare people away, scare people into moderation, or make people dig deeper. That one-third of the population will go far in life, on and off the field, and in and out of the classroom. That special subpopulation possesses a very short memory. They will let it slide off their shoulders instead of letting that burden seep in. The closers in baseball are oftentimes the best pitchers on their respective teams. They are counted on to come in at the end of a ballgame, with the stakes riding high, and get the win. Sometimes they become the goats. The greatest deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes I’ve had the honor of playing with crave that opportunity to be the hero, and lose memory of all the failures they’ve had in the past.

If I had a penny for every joke that’s been chirped in my direction, I would be able to own a Dunkin’ Donuts in my own apartment. Student-athletes who are “different” from everyone else will naturally become an easy target of some ribbing. This kind of ribbing, heckling, mocking, and/or line-crossing can come from anyone at any given situation. The best deaf and hard-of-hearing student-athletes have extremely thick skin. I’ve had some chirps that I took personally, but I was able to channel that kind of frustration into playing better in many ways. The college level can be quite tough, and you will have to be tougher.

The single greatest trait in determining a deaf and hard-of-hearing student-athletes’ future success in everything is relentlessness. When the rigors of intercollegiate athletes hammer you down and break you open, but then you find that inner greatness inside…it’s really hard to lose when you absolutely refuse to quit. A fine example of relentlessness: Natalie Snyder came into RIT with a torn labrum and triceps. She took her first two years off from diving to recover from her injuries. Any athlete who experienced injuries like that would seriously contemplate retiring from intercollegiate competition way before it started. But not Natalie. She stuck with it, and refused to let any kind of uncertainty throw her off track. Once she recovered and got back on the diving board, she went on to have one of the most illustrious careers a college diver could ever have…in only two years. She went undefeated on the 1-meter dives, garnering All-America honors, and now is pursuing a Ph.D. Not too bad, eh?

Be on “Tiger Time.” Go after it and make things happen. Get back on your feet if you come up short. Don’t let the haters get to you. Find your inner greatness, and never quit.