Corrective Surgery and Local Sports clubs

Apologies for the late arrival of this post, should have been up yesterday.
I imagine at some point that everyone with a “spare part” – Hearing aid, cochlear implant, prosthetic limb, glass eyes, wheelchairs, dentures etc has felt the urge to, or had to, undertake some form of DIY modification to make the offending article work; sit comfortably; stop hurting – whatever.
Yesterday I carried out some corrective surgery on Two Big Ears because I have a deformed right pinna due to a mild form of Treacher Collins Syndrome – the right side Big Ear will not stay in place.
Like all good pioneers, I am not going to reveal my medical secrets as it might be a breakthrough for deaf people and earn me untold riches from the NHS or private health. I am going to test it out for a while. But what I can tell you is that the procedure only requires a ballpoint pen and two elastic bands – go figure.
Yesterdays experiences got me thinking that getting children and young people into sport, local sport clubs. Is a bit like corrective surgery.
Joanne and I have been looking after her eight and ten year old grandsons this weekend. On the way over to see them yesterday, Joanne wondered If the two pairs of Two BIg Ears would freak them out and would we get permission from the eight-year-old to allow Two Big Ears to take him to his weekly Taekwondo lessons.
There was no freak out. eight-year-old loved Joanne’s Two Big Ears and tried them on for size. My Two Big Ears were “embarrassing” , nevertheless less I persuaded him to let me keep them on and promised to explain why I was wearing them in the car on the way to “kick someone in the head”.
Try to imagine the stunned expression on the faces of coaches, parents and athletes as we walked in to the gym. I really would like to know if that’s the same reaction disabled people still get today when they turn up announced at a local sports activity and hope to join in? Just think about it, what must that feel like for everyone.
Don’t get the wrong end of the story here, the guys at West Midlands Taekwondo are fantastic. I quickly got them out of their misery by announcing that I was with eight-year-old and I had £10 for his subs.

Normal service quickly resumed and I really enjoyed watching my first Taekwondo lesson, there were five little people with laser sharp focus, taking in every instruction from coach Mike Meese. Inspiring to watch a child being taught the basic foot movements and another carry out intricate arm blocks and punches. Only 10,000 hours away from their first world championship medal?

Of course, I made my daily contribution for the GB Deaflympics team I gave one of the mum’s and Mrs Meese a copy of the Introduction…
I would like your permission to allow me to share my inner thoughts as I watched that lesson, after all, that is the purpose of this blog.
There was a girl training with eight-year-old who had a physical disability – I wave hands in the air for her dad for including her in his sport. Many children born with disabilities are not given these precious life chances to enjoy sport. Her movements are restricted so she could not show the finese of of the others, but we could all see her for what she was and proud of what she was doing.
But this did make me wonder about the “hidden disability” of deafness. Instructions were given verbally in a mixture of Korean and English alongside a demonstration of the movement required. Had a deaf child turned up yesterday morning, the coaching methodology would have been insufficient to make sure that the child was able to follow what was going on. But I have my utmost faith in Mrs and Mrs Meese and the other members of WMTKD that they would make the necessary adaptation for the deaf child. They have my UK Deaf Sport business card, they can contact us as soon as a deaf person joins their club, we will be there to help them.
UK Deaf Sport is working in partnership with sports coach UK and the National Deaf Childrens Society we are currently developing a new workshop on communication skills for sports coaches which will be piloted later this year with a launch in the spring – if all goes well, I look forward to personally delivering the workshop to everyone at WMTKD.
First impressions really do count, imagine an astute parent of a deaf child turning up to yesterday’s lesson and making a personal assessment on its suitability for their child.
On the basis of what I saw yesterday, they would probably not return the following week. Parents of deaf children have a point of view quite different from mine, I am pre-lingually Deaf and a fully qualified PE teacher, sports coach, coach tutor so have my perspective on things. Parents are experts on their own children but not necessarily experts on inclusive sport for disabled children.
When eight-year-old and I got back home, Mum and Dad were almost ready to leave for their well deserved weekend break. Dad and I had a chat about the lesson and his hopes for both his boys. I learnt that Dad had taken 10-year-old to the local Sea Cadets but decided from his point of view that there was something not quite right about the group, it made him feel uncomfortable, so they are looking for something else to do. First impressions, rightly or wrongly are powerful – we, in sport have to get it right first time otherwise we risk losing newcomers.
There is a boxing club I know who have an excellent approach to first time visitors and I assume it is also replicated at all ABCs – I hope. Both parent and child are invited to observe their first session, if the child is straining at the leash to have a go, they can. When Joanne’s son showed an interest in the sport we took him along to the club to observe.
The volunteers at the club explained everything to us, showed us around the venue etc, made as all feel welcome. But, we never went back. Although the club explained that they had worked with another deaf child before, this did not persuade our 14 year old. He was concerned about the enormity of the communication issues facing him. It was his own personal impression of what he saw.
If I had not been there, Joanne would not have taken her son because there was nobody to communicate with them. If there had been another deaf person at the club, (volunteer, boxer, coach, or parent) – then there would have been a higher possibility of him returning to give it a go.
It’s human nature, we all want to be with people like ourselves. There has to be a common denominator that compels us to join a new club, but sometimes the sport itself is not enough.
Deaf people need someone that they can communicate with. The little girl I admired yesterday, her father is a player – Taekwondo is a family thing.
In the beginning, 8-year-old had to be told he was going to his lessons, it was not out of choice, even now, Mum and Dad have to make sure he’s ready to go and take him there. They do this because they want him to have the best chances in life, they believe that sport is a force for good.
Getting disabled children involved in a local sports club is a bit like corrective surgery, get it wrong and you are psycologically scarred, sometimes for life and the task becomes much harder.

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