Deaf and Hard of Hearing Athletic Coaches
It’s March and that means it’s time for the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament and filling out your brackets for the office pool. During this process, people often pay attention to expert opinions on not just the best teams but also the best “March coaches” and the impact they make in the tournament. Although they run different programs and game plans, these high-level coaches all have at least one thing in common – they aren’t deaf.
So what about deaf and hard of hearing coaches? How does their hearing loss affect how they manage the game? Does hearing loss pose a barrier to being as successful as coaches who can hear? The answer is, of course, no. Deaf coaches can be just as successful, if not more successful, than able-hearing coaches, and this isn’t just a cliché response. It’s been proven by successful, deaf coaches in a variety of sports.
Take Maryland School for the Deaf football coach Andy Bonheyo for example. With a record of 170 wins and 48 losses (as of 2009) and 15 National Deaf Prep Championships, it’s clear that deaf coaches can have success (A. Maggin and S. Bass, ABC News). Many of those wins came against hearing teams, too. His players are also deaf, which gives them the advantage of using Sign Language in games, something their hearing opponents most likely cannot decipher. He’s also a coach that’s truly committed to the athletes, a trait that yields success in any athletic program. But, what makes him special for deaf athletes is that he can relate to them and connect with them in a way that no hearing coach can. This special connection plays a significant role in successfully motivating his players to perform well on the field.
Another deaf coach who has had significant success as both an athlete and a coach is Curtis Pride, a former Major League Baseball player and current head baseball coach at Gallaudet University. As testament to his success, he guided the Bison to a school-record 25 wins in the 2012 season and had a number of players named to NEAC All-Conference teams (Gallaudetathletics.com). His aim is to be a great communicator and motivate his players to play hard for him, which is something he learned from his greatest influence, former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox. Similar to Bonheyo, Pride emphasizes communication and motivation by being able to relate to his deaf players.
Bonheyo and Pride are just two of the many successful deaf coaches. So, how do these coaches achieve their success? It’s quite simple: they coach to win. Much like their hearing counterparts, they have to formulate winning strategies, make in-game decisions, and be knowledgeable in their respective sports. But, what these deaf coaches also have is an ability to use forms of communication that are uncommon in sports, such as sign language, and they can relate to their deaf players in a way no hearing coach can. More importantly, they understand the challenges and obstacles that deaf athletes overcome firsthand. In Pride’s case, he overcame these obstacles and took his abilities to the highest level of baseball, the major league. Andy Bonheyo and Curtis Pride are proof that the challenges of being a deaf athlete can be overcome and will certainly motivate a deaf athlete to compete his or her hardest to try and achieve those same results.