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Swimming and Deaf People:

April 6, 2009
By Annie Boyd
"Deaf and Water Resistant"

When I was growing up everything that had to do with sports and athletics always came so easy to me and I never stopped to think of how difficult it would be or how I would feel if there were barriers that made it harder for me to succeed. I started swimming when I was three years old and I stayed on that same team I started with until I was eighteen; fifteen years of swimming constantly.

I had everything swimming related down to a T. I knew the immediate silence after the starter called the swimmers to take their mark, the quickness of the buzzer, the sound the water made when I dove in or when people were pulling closer, and the cheering that ensued afterwards--it was like a second language to me. When I think of swimming those are the noises I hear in my head and it is immediately soothing. What if those noises were not present? Would I still get the same feeling about this sport that I loved? Would I be able to compete as easily and efficiently? Would I give up or keep at it?

All these questions got me thinking about how a person with a hearing disability be able to identify critiques from their hearing coach and how would the race be fair if that swimmer could not hear the buzzer when the race started. Surveys done in Rochon, Feinstein, and Soukup's "Effectiveness of American Sign Language in Coaching Athletes who are Deaf" have shown that a majority of coaches of deaf athletes feel as though they are ineffective communicators with their athletes, although instead of trying to communicate to them using ASL they resorted to whiteboards and hoping their athlete could effectively lip read. The athletes who succeeded the most were those whose coaches incorporated ASL into their practices making their deaf swimmers feel less alienated which created a bond with their athlete that lead to a more successful performance by the swimmer.

As stated in "Swimmers with a Disability" by Joanne Love, deaf swimmers can effectively perform strokes, turns, and starts. "Coaches need to use frequent demonstrations, give lots of visual feedback and remember to teach the athlete to use a strobe light as a starting signal," to complete the readiness process for performance and competition.

Performance is judged on how well one competes and before these swimmers can compete accommodations must be made so they may have the same advantage as the non-deaf swimmers. According to “Guide for Swimmers and Parents” published by USA Swimming prior to swim meets it is necessary for coaches of deaf swimmers to contact the swim meet director to inform them of the accommodations that are necessary for their athlete to compete which may include special seeding in their heats and a clear view of the strobe light and hand gesture which both initiate the start. The strobe light flashes at the exact moment the start buzzer goes off so all swimmers begin equally, now deaf and hearing have no say in the matter, it is simply up to the amount of time and hard work put into enhancing their swimming skills.

Though there are obvious obstacles for these swimmer athletes, it goes to show that it is possible to overcome them, otherwise why would there be the Deaflympics (Deaf World Games) which have been around since 1924? As stated on the official website for the Deaflympics, "the need for separate games for deaf athletes is not just evident in the numbers of participants (3,200 athletes and officials). Deaf athletes are distinguished from all others in their special communication needs on the sports field, as well as in the social interaction that is an equally vital part of the games."

Those athletes are phenomenal at what they do and it is all owed to the long road of trials and hard work they overcame in the process. In truth, I feel they are more admirable for their accomplishments because it was harder to reach their ultimate goals than it would be for someone who could hear all the demands necessary, immediately.


Deaflympics Official Web Page
Love, Joanne. "Swimmer with a Disability-A Brief Guide for Coaches"
Rochon, Wendy, Feinstein & Soukup. October 27, 2006.
"Effectiveness of American Sign Language in Coaching Athletes who are Deaf"
USA Swimming. "A Guide for Swimmers and Parents." May 1, 2001.


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