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Sound Approach to Communication

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Article from Coaching Edge Summer 2013: Earn Your Stripes

I‘m not a deaf musician, I’m a musician who happens to be deaf.’

A quote from world-renowned percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who wrote an essay 20 years ago in which she admitted that ‘if the audience is instead only wondering how a deaf musician can play percussion, then I have failed as a musician.’

There are parallels in all walks of life, and for deaf coaches across all sports, the issue is no different. Merely change the word ‘musician’ for ‘coach’, and Glennie’s quote still stands for many.

Memnos Costi is a UEFA B licensed football coach. He also just happens to be deaf. His is an impressive pedigree that includes coaching St John’s Deaf FC for the past 15 years, during which they have won the British Deaf Cup seven times and the Deaf Champions League seven times in a row. In addition, he coached the British women’s team before the Deaflympics, as well as Cyprus’s deaf football team.

There have undoubtedly been barriers along the way. He likes to say: ‘In the deaf world, there are no barriers, I am free to fly’, before adding of his ongoing coaching progress:

‘In a hearing world, it’s much harder.’ He says: ‘There are no real opportunities for a deaf coach. Professional and semi-professional clubs do not trust me or have faith that I can deliver, even with an interpreter. But, again, coaching via an interpreter is coaching through a third party – not effective enough.

‘Football is all about communication, and hearing teams/players know this. They need to hear information. I demonstrate visually, you will see my information. For many players, 80% is communication and only 20% is skill.’

But things have been implemented to change the attitude towards deafness in sport, whether it is a coach or athlete with the hearing impairments.

Among the initiatives is sports coach UK’s ‘Effective Communication: Coaching Deaf People in Sport’ workshop, developed in association with UK Deaf Sport and the

National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), aimed at coaches who want to understand more about coaching deaf people, but also coaches who are just looking to develop their non-verbal communication skills.

Taking part in the three-hour workshop, that he now leads, Costi revelled in the feedback he was able to give on what has been previously an overlooked aspect of coaching.

Another attendee was Laura Copplestone, a Multi-sports coach to children aged 4-18 with an array of disabilities, who was part of the first session in Leeds, highlighted it being ‘really useful to hear everyone’s ideas for incorporating deaf youngsters into their current sports clubs’.

The biggest aspect of coaching is communication, from grass-roots level to the very elite, and Copplestone admits that in itself has been something she has had to learn to adapt to over the years.

‘It can be difficult for me to hear what the children are saying, especially if they have a speech impediment,’ she says, ‘and if they all start talking at the same time. But I sit them down in a semi-circle and explain one at a time and make them face me when speaking. That seems to do the trick.’

Coaches with hearing impairments, in Copplestone’s eyes, can benefit from the more alternative nature of her coaching when compared with the traditional approaches.

‘Non-verbal communication can help develop your overall communication skills as a coach as it makes it inclusive to deaf people,’ she adds.

‘Even when, for example, I am oral in my coaching approach, if the coach is simply deafaware, it makes it so much easier to partake.’

Costi’s viewpoint is different. On the same subject, he says: ‘It’s how you coach a team as a whole that makes you an effective coach – building on your mistakes, watching and learning from others, working with players and building them up.

‘To coach a deaf team in sign language is like coaching a hearing team by talking to them. However, as you get further up the coaching levels, more and more of the coaching is about demonstration, which means a deaf coach is merely a good coach.’

The NDCS, which has worked extensively with The FA among others to develop their own workshop for coaching deaf footballers, has done research on the communication methods used by deaf children.

Tom Lyons, NDCS’s Me2 sports and leisure officer, explains: ‘At the events, the percentage of children and young people using British Sign Language (BSL) is around 20%.’

The new sports coach UK workshop enables coaches to be aware of deafness and understand the barriers facing deaf people in sport, and how to develop their communication skills, encourage deaf people to aim high in sport and develop an action people to include deaf people in any coaching session.

Squash coach Brian Ward opted to attend the workshop after having already worked with two deaf adults at Fair Oak Squash Club in Hampshire: ‘I really wanted to expand my knowledge of how to deal with those situations so, in the future, I’m in a position to work with more deaf or hard of hearing children and adults.

‘It’s had a tremendous impact on my coaching. It’s given me the confidence to liaise and effectively communicate with deaf people in a way that both parties can understand.

Understanding the techniques around non-verbal communication has been invaluable and has also helped my everyday coaching sessions. Whatever sport you coach, I’d recommend you attend this workshop.’

Irrespective of your hearing ability, the key principle to good coaching remains the same – communication.

As Microsoft founder Bill Gates once said: ‘I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms they’re interested in.’

Next Steps

For more information about the workshop visit:


Watch squash coach Brian Ward describe how attending the workshop also enhanced the coaching of his hearing participants by visiting:


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