‘Deaf Football in Great Britain has a very proud and strong history, dating back to 1871, a history that is virtually unknown to the majority of the followers of football in Britain.
Great Britain Deaf have been crowned World Champions 6 times since the Deaflympics was formed in 1924, which is more than any other country.
Several of Great Britain’s leading deaf players play semi-professionally for teams around UK’.
October 2014 saw the inception of the new GB Deaf Football under 23 Development Programme. Under manager Ryan Lewis the coaching team was assembled and I was appointed as GB Deaf Goalkeeper Coach.
Having previously coached goalkeepers at grassroots, county and semi-professional level this was my first opportunity at working with potential international goalkeepers. The aim of the development programme is to trial, coach, develop and prepare the best young British deaf footballers for selection into the full senior GB Deaf team.
Apart from the obvious delight and pride at gaining the goalkeeping coaching position my initial thought was how do go about you coaching deaf goalkeepers? Is there any specific football or goalkeeping sign language I need to know? How would the goalkeeping coach, goalkeeper, interpreter relationship work? What challenges would I face in terms of providing technical instruction and demonstrations?
I spent some time watching sign language videos, deaf football matches, learning the BSL alphabet, even buying some football specific sign language cue cards to best prepare myself. Fortunately at our first full training camp, held at Leicestershire FA HQ in January of this year, I needn’t have worried.
With an excellent team of translators on hand and my two goalkeepers being good lip readers the weekend went very well. The actual coaching wasn’t that much different from coaching hearing players, I used a white board to explain the drills and then walked them through with the assistance of the translators so that keepers understood what was being asked of them.
The two day camp entailed a technical training day all day Saturday, a short tactical set pieces session on Sunday morning followed by a game on the Sunday afternoon.
I had two keepers, who I’d never met before (Cameron Hickman from Reading and Adam Thomas from Manchester United), and in a very short space of time had to develop good positive working relationships with as well as assessing their current form and technical abilities through a variety of footwork, ball handling, and shot stopping practices in the morning. The afternoon included dealing with crosses and distribution drills so that I could best assess both keepers in preparation for selection for the game on the following day.
The technical aspect goalkeeping coaching was fairly straightforward as the sessions revolved around me serving ensuring I kept eye contact with the keepers at all times enabling them to lip read any technical information I needed to cover. Also having a translator on hand meant if my instructions weren’t clear they would help me explain them.
The tactical side of the coaching was somewhat more of a challenge. The speed of the game is such that with hearing players a coach would use a word, command or whistle to stop play and explain a situation or coaching picture. However stopping the game with the deaf players often took a bit longer and with the result being that the pictures had often changed from those originally spotted. Again though credit to the translators who really helped put the key tactical information across.
The communication between the players was also interesting to observe having never experienced it before. As a coach and football fan you often take it for granted that players talk and often shout at each other to move into the right positions at the right time. With some of the deaf players lip reading and other players signing to press, drop, squeeze, tuck in etc, and with the speed of the game, meant it was often a case of players physically moving other players into position as time would often not allow a full sentence to be signed.
As for the goalkeepers’ communication, it was important that the outfield players tried to keep an open body position so as to see the ball, the opposition and where relevant, eye to eye contact with the goalkeeper. The majority of signals were hand signals and on set pieces where to stand having worked on these the day before the game.
The game itself was no different than any other game, two teams, 11 v 11, all the usual rules, the only noticeable difference was that the referee had a flag to wave as well as their whistle, no doubt a challenge for the match officials too. Despite a close defeat in the match the whole weekend was very successful in terms of setting the foundations for the development programme.
Since the first training camp in January there have been a couple of other friendlies, but much like many international teams getting elite deaf players released from teams has been a difficult, the coaching staff therefore not being able to put out a consistent squad, however this was to be expected in our first season.
The most recent training camp was held in March in Reading, Berkshire with players coming from as far and wide a Dublin and Edinburgh giving a true international representation to the squad. Kindly hosted at the Mary Hare School for the Deaf another successful training day was followed by a victorious performance on the Sunday.
The challenge for me that weekend was that having expected four goalkeepers to be training only one was released by his club meaning I had to make sure I balanced the training sessions and intensity on Saturday with the fact that my keeper would be playing the full 90 minutes on the Sunday. To his credit he worked hard throughout the weekend finishing with a well-deserved clean sheet as we won 4-0.
The whole experience this season has been a very enjoyable one working with technically excellent players and staff with a very professional approach to the whole programme as we strive to continue to develop players for senior selection in 2016. Training for the 2015 / 16 season is due to start in early September with the Deaf World Cup in Italy next summer being the goal for many of the under 23 players and coaching staff.
Following a very successful first development season five of the current under 23 squad have been selected for this summer’s European Deaf Championships in June in Hannover with the senior squad where they kick off their campaign against Russia in the Oststadt Stadium on the 15th of June at 4pm.
Follow Great Britain’s progress here: http://www.eurodeaf2015.eu/
For more info on deaf football see: http://britishdeaffootball.com/