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Sports and Hearing Loss:

Whether it's a soccer pitch, a baseball diamond, a golf course or a tennis court, balls are not the only things you'll see flying around the place. Everywhere you look there are hundreds, if not thousands, of messages being passed from person to person, every minute. Many of them are easy to understand. See if you can match these examples to their meanings.

The baseball umpire spreads his arms wide and grins. Start!
The defending Wimbledon champion throws her racquet to the ground and scowls. Safe!
The race marshal drops the chequered flag. I scored!
The striker pulls his shirt over his face and falls to his knees. Bad Call!

In two recent studies, scientists showed that more than 50% of the meaning in our messages is conveyed through non-verbal clues: the look on our face, the way we stand, and the hand gestures we make.* Words alone just can't say it all. Most athletes express themselves through body language, but for people who play team sports, being skilled in non-verbal communication is essential to success.

Sports fields are big and noisy places (unless you play golf, that is). The players are often spaced too far apart to hear each other, even when shouting. It's also hard for them to hear the coach. Out there on the pitch, players rely on their eyes much more than their ears. And what this means - if you'll forgive the pun - is that a sports pitch can be a level playing field for all athletes, even those with hearing impairment. How well you hear makes no difference to how well you can volley a ball or set up a defensive play.

In fact, the player with a hearing impairment has something special and useful to offer to his or her teammates: expertise in non-verbal communication. Everyone on your team will benefit from learning your skills for sending and receiving messages in situations where hearing is difficult.

Here are some ways you can improve communication on and off the field with your teammates and coaches:

On The Field

  • Team Signals: Trying to hear and understand in a large gym or from across a soccer field can be very tough for many people. It is possible to work together to create your own hand signals for your team which will be valuable to every member of the team. For example, if the coach wants to encourage the team to "hustle, hustle, get going!" then maybe a wave of the right arm in a knocking motion a couple of times will help all the players know they gotta hustle! Make up some of your own and see how easy it is to communicate more while in a game or meet.

  • American Sign Language: If you don't already know them, learn some basic signs that are related to sports and teach your teammates how to use them. Lots of people are fascinated by sign language and like to use signs if it will help improve communication. This website has videos of words and common phrases and is a good place to start.

Off The Field

  • Team Talk: As a team, discuss ways of communicating that will include everyone. It may be as simple as reminding teammates and coaches that they should face you directly when giving instruction or to give handouts when appropriate, like rules of the game, or names and dates of future games, etc.

  • Sports Buddy: A fellow teammate can be paired up with you so that verbal information given by the coach or other players can then be told to you, so you can stay 'in the loop.'

  • Use of FM system: For some sports, it is possible to use a wireless FM system. For best results, the external antenna should be used to give maximum range. If your coach is not familiar with how it works, this will give you the chance to be the coach! Be sure to emphasize the importance of turning the device OFF when leaving the field or gym.

Hearing aids can occasionally be a nuisance when playing sports. Here are some tips for maximizing your comfort:

These neat protective covers come in different colour and patterns which can be worn with or without audio shoe and FM receiver.

  • Ear Gear: These spandex sleeves fit over hearing aids to keep out moisture, sweat, dirt, or any other gross things that might get into your hearing aids while playing sports. They come in a variety of colors, and can be worn with FM boots and receiver attached. Since there's also a danger of losing your hearing aid in the mud when you get really physical, you might want to opt for the cord that secures the hearing aid to your shirt. Go to www.gearforears.com to see the full range of products and colours available.


  • Headband or Bandana: For some sports, such as bike riding or running, it is possible to use a headband or a simple bandana to keep the hearing aids in place and help cut down on the wind noise.


  • Soft molds for sports: If you play a sport where there is a chance that a ball or player might hit your ears or hearing aid, this could hurt or cause injury. For hearing aids with a hard earmold, it is possible for the earmold to shatter. If this is a concern, an earmold made of a soft material for use with sports might help reduce the risk of injury. A soft earmold can even be made to match your team colors. Ask your hearing healthcare provider if this option would be suitable for you.

Where did the 'huddle' come from?

Deaf athletes have a long history of participating in sports, and football is no exception. Paul Hubbard was a quarterback for Gallaudet University in 1894 when he suggested to his teammates they form a circle so their deaf opponents would not be able to read their sign language. By forming a circle with everyone facing towards each other they could use their bodies as a shield and sign to each other without the other team 'seeing' what they were saying. This proved to be an effective way to communicate and keep the other team in suspense!

What works for you? Send us your suggestions of how you and your teammates communicate, or tips on how you use your hearing aid when playing sports. If we use your suggestion you could win a cool prize!


Here are some examples of non-verbal communication you might find in sports:


Visual Signals

Baseball umpire signaling a play is "Safe!"

Football referee signaling a touchdown

Football 'flag on the play'

Waving of checkered flag at finish line of Formula 1 or NASCAR

Scoreboards show stats of game, including the score


Audible Signals

Whistle of referee to signal start of game

Starter pistol to signal start of a track event


Hand Gestures/Body Language

Hand signals catcher gives to pitcher in baseball (softball)

Huddle for football

Any hand signals to allow teammates to communicate while in play



*Silent Messages, Mehrabian, A, Silent Messages. Wadsworth, Belmont. 1971.