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Deafness in Hockey and Basketball

By Chris Fischer, staff writer

Given that the NBA and NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals have recently wrapped up, it is appropriate to give recognition to deaf athletes that participate in basketball and hockey. While the recently crowned champions Miami Heat (NBA) and Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) are most likely looking forward to a break and some celebration, many players are getting ready to start workouts and prepare for another year. Deaf athletes are no different in that they strive to win championships and work hard during the offseason. The major differences lie in communication and communication barriers.

Despite these differences, deaf athletes have found their way to success at professional levels of competition. Lance Allred, a deaf basketball player, spent part of 2008 with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, but was ultimately released by them. Today, Allred continues to play professional basketball abroad. Another deaf athlete found success on the hockey rink – Jim Kyte – a former NHL player with the Winnipeg Jets from 1983 to 1997. These are just two of many deaf athletes who have been able to overcome communication barriers and are able to compete professionally.

So, how do deaf athletes participate in these sports?

The American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association (AHIHA) provides some coaching tips on their website. These include hockey-specific tips, such as teaching players to use the glass that surrounds the rink as a mirror to improve their spatial awareness. Other tips include using visual cues, a coaching board, and hand signals to signify certain plays or stoppage in a play.

Similar strategies are used by coaches and players in basketball where deaf athletes are more responsive to visual cues. Using coaching boards and hand signals to signify certain plays are common strategies. In addition, the inclusion of deaf athletes, and equal treatment of them in both basketball and hockey, is just as important, if not more important than alternative communication methods. These methods are key to a deaf athlete’s athletic confidence and psychological development.

Lance Allred and Jim Kyte are proof that a recipe for success in hockey and basketball consists of the right coaching, and equal treatment of deaf athletes.

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