Deafness is a disability in sport – because people do not understand visual awareness.

In my latest book, Same Spirit Different Team I discuss the subject of deafness and how it affects high performance sport and I argue that we need more research into this area in order that people can understand the Deaflympics and Deaf sport itself.

The problem is, that non-deaf people find it very difficult to empathise with the difficulties of deafness – until it happens to them, and by then it is too late for the generations of deaf athletes who are missing out on the recognition and support that the Deaflympics and Deaf sport needs.


Steve James’ article in The Telegraph “Six Nations 2014: England turn to disco lights to improve visual awareness” demonstrates that the inability of the England international rugby team being unable to hear each other at Twickenham has resulted in missed opportunities to score tries because of the increased noise levels from the Twickenham crowds. The coaches are calling it a lack of visual awareness. Mike Catt is experimenting with disco lights to try and improve player performance.

The England players are temporarily disabled, because they cannot hear each other. Their performances are compromised. The coaching staff do not understand visual awareness and how to develop it naturally.

The solutions to the problem are much closer to home, and the people with the knowledge to help have already played at international level – but they don’t realise that they are the solution. Ben Cohen MBE (England 2000-2006) and Matthew Gilbert (flanker currently with Bath) are the players that Stuart Lancaster needs to turn to for help.

However, as i explain in the book, due to the stigmatisation of deafness and the impact that this has on sports performance, both Cohen and Gilbert have suppressed their innate abilities and therefore do not have an acquired understanding of the ‘super power‘ within themselves.

As Andy Palmer, writing for the Limping Chicken explains, the England coaching team need to consult with the England Deaf Rugby team as they can learn from them. Lyndon James, secretary of the England Deaf Rugby Union explained to Palmer that by learning sign language high performance athletes will improve their visual awareness. I might add that they need to create their own system of signs that cannot be intercepted by the opposition.

sports coach UK currently provides a workshop “Effective Communication” which is based on the non-verbal communication skills innate in deaf and non-deaf people that can be enhanced to improve sports performance. This workshop has been designed by myself, representing UK Deaf Sport in partnership with the NDCS and sports coach UK. Feedback from participants is having the desired effect that i intended the workshop to produce – not only do delegates develop a realisation that these skills give them a little more confidence to work with deaf performers but they can be applied to everyone that they coach.

The disco lights might have an outside chance to improve the peripheral vision of players and lead to a few more tries, but they have much much more to gain by developing their non-verbal skills which will lead to enhanced visual awareness – a much more natural state of performance development.

The first step is to get Stuart Lancaster and the entire England coaching staff onto the sports coach UK workshop along with the England Deaf rugby team and they will realise within three hours what their solutions are.

I have briefly mentioned here that is not only a physiological problem – the impact of being unable to hear, but it is also a sociological problem – the stigmatisation of deafness. The impact of Milan 1880 and the difficulties of accepting deafness has far reaching implications for deaf people in sport. The book Same Spirit Different Team is a must read if you want to know more about this fascinating subject.

Ex England and New Zealand international Jamie Salmon is already reading his copy of Same Spirit Different Team – who will he help first England or New Zealand ?


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