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UK Coaching and UK Deaf Sport
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Supporting Specific Needs

Coaching Deaf and Hard of Hearing People

Top tips for including deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) people in your coaching sessions, in association with UK Deaf Sport

Think about a time when you changed jobs, met new people in a friendship group or attended a new sporting activity. How did it feel?

Attending a new session, coaching environment, and meeting new people can be daunting for everyone. It can be even more challenging for a person with a disability.

As coaches, we often talk about meeting participants where they’re at. This is especially important for a deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) participant. 

This resource contains a few ideas to help you ensure that they have a great first session and that you’re able to meet their needs. 

Setting up for success (for you and the participant)

  • Set the scene for the individual to feel included and valued at the session, and that you want them to engage.
  • When you meet them for the first time, as well as finding out their name, ask if you can talk about their deafness and the communication modes they would like to use. 
  • Share the reason you should be aware and explain why you need to know. 
  • Have an open discussion about the challenges they face and how you can assist during the sessions, making it a more positive experience. 
  • Remember to listen and pay attention. It’s impossible to predict the problems they may face unless you share the same disability, and it’s critical not to minimise their disability with a small comparison of your own.
  • Ask the participant where they prefer to stand to be able to hear or follow what is going on and suggest that it may be easier for them to stand near you when you are sharing information, having conversations, and providing instructions. Allow them to make the decision they feel most comfortable with. Asking someone to stand at the front each time is not a pleasant experience for anyone. 
  • Consider how you may need to adapt your current practices to ensure that the experience is good for everyone.
  • Remember that empathy, not sympathy, is required. 

Consider

What steps or approach do you take when a new participant wants to join your group?  Do you arrange to meet before the session or is there an option to just attend at the beginning? Applying what you know now, could you adapt how you meet and introduce a new participant to your sessions?  

 

Considerations when coaching

  1. Do not assume that your DHH participant is an expert on their needs. You can share this set of guidelines with them to aid your discussion and allow them to highlight what might work best for them.
  2. Discuss with the individual where they could position themselves when you are speaking to the group, discussing plans, providing instructions, or giving feedback. Remember not everyone will feel comfortable being at the front and centre. Consider your positioning during the activities as the coach, move to a position where the participant is close by and can clearly see you. 
  3. When coaching indoors, try to reduce the noise level. Hearing aids and cochlear implants are not selective in the sounds that they amplify and, therefore, any background noises will be amplified as much as your voice. It is better to wait until the group has stopped the activity before trying to speak.
  4. Be aware that hearing aids and cochlear implants are only effective at close range. Wearers may need alternative signs or non-verbal signals if you’re conveying information at distance.
  5. Speak clearly and don’t exaggerate lip movements. If you’re a fast speaker, you might find that slowing down your rate of speech a little could help. 
  6. Avoid standing in front of a window or with the sun at your back as other because this makes it difficult for people to see you and lip-reading becomes difficult.
  7. Consider, as a great coach, whether you need to speak to the whole group. Can you provide instructions, feedback, and progressions better to a small group or individual? Try to face your participants when speaking and don’t cover your mouth with your hand, paper, or a pen; do not chew gum or eat. Be aware that a beard or moustache may make lip-reading difficult. 
  8. Ensure the participant is paying attention before you begin to deliver instructions or coaching points. Attract the DHH participant’s attention before speaking to them or else they may not realise you are talking to them. A tap on the shoulder or a wave is acceptable. 
  9. Present one format of visual information at a time. The participant cannot ‘read’ two things at the same time: for example, the board and your lips. Therefore, try to avoid talking while writing on the board or demonstrating. 

Case study

A Rugby League coach shares his experiences of working with a deaf player. At the session, during team huddles and introducing activities I noticed two players at the back. They were always nattering. 

Over the next few sessions, I noticed that ‘Robin’ was always at the back of activities and stepped back to watch others. During a water break, I asked his friend what the chat was about, and he calmly stated, ‘oh Robin is deaf, so I explain what you are saying and make sure he understands’ adding, ‘I have always done it at school and most people are used to it now’. 

I was mortified. How did I miss this, nobody had told me, it wasn’t on the medical forms, and he has a headguard for playing. I loitered at lunchtime and as Robin took off his headguard I noticed his long hair and watched him quietly put in his hearing aids.

I took the opportunity to speak to Robin. Whilst feeling very uncomfortable, I explained that I had seen what happened during the sessions and that Simon explained how they work together to ensure that Robin understands the instructions. 

He was so cool, said it was okay and that he didn’t like making a big deal about it, as it just drew attention to him. We agreed on a few things that he thought would help him. 

After a demonstration or new practice, if Robin were unsure, he would stay behind, and we would go through it again. He would stand at the side, so it was easier to see my face, but he wouldn’t stand at the front, and I made a commitment to keep facing forward when speaking (I looked for Robin more often from that point forward) and stopped talking when doing a physical demonstration. 

It helped my coaching a lot as I began considering whether I needed to bring in the whole group or work with smaller groups.

The biggest thing was that it wasn’t one thing, it was lots of little action nudges and considerations to make the experience better for Robin, and me! The hardest thing was the initial feeling of being uncomfortable during the first conversation.

  1. Write down keywords and new vocabulary if needed. This helps because unfamiliar words are almost impossible to lip-read. 
  2. Where possible, demonstrate techniques, practices, activities, or feedback/corrections rather than relying on verbal explanations. 
  3. Inform the participant of any changes in the daily routine. They may be the only one in the session unprepared for such things as a room or venue change, a change to finishing times or changes in activity. 
  4. Repeat other people’s contributions to the session.
  5. As appropriate, ask the participant to teach you sport-specific signs; there is a number of these that a sign language user can teach members of your sporting club to assist with communication during matches and training. 
  6. Make sure the DHH participant can identify essential signals in your sport (e.g., visual equivalents to whistles or a starting pistol). A simple example could include a referee/starter putting an arm up, then down at the same time as the whistle/starting pistol. 
  7. If a DHH participant does not reply, or seems to have difficulty understanding, rephrase what you just said/demonstrated before moving on. A DHH participant will usually confirm they understand by a nod of the head, and you should do the same.

Have a go

With agreement from your DHH participant, discuss the tips described here with group members, parents/carers, or support assistants and coaches prior to, or shortly after, the participant joins the team. You can also advise everyone on how to assist the participant.

 

For example, combine clapping with a double-handed wave to congratulate or praise. When we see something good, the natural reaction is to clap. The Deaf community uses a raised double-handed wave to show the same appreciation, so use both methods for a mixed group.

Safeguarding and Protecting Children and Young People: Renewal

Refresh and update your understanding of safeguarding and complete the 'Protecting d/Deaf and Disabled Children in Sport' module to help you coach deaf and hard of hearing people effectively

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The information on this resource has been written by those with a great deal of experience in this area. The information is provided as guidance only, allowing you to be more informed in your approach to being a more inclusive coach. No two people are the same; as such, please ensure your first step is always to speak to the person – understand their abilities and goals, and never assume.

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