8:48am Tuesday 8th January 2013
IMAGINE playing a game of football without being able to hear the coach screaming at you from the sidelines.
And when the keeper shouts from defence those words go unheard by one player — because that player is deaf.
That is the lonely reality for many youngsters who are deaf or hard of hearing, playing in teams in which their peers can hear.
But, thanks to a scheme launched by Bolton Wanderers Community Trust, youngsters with hearing impairment are able to play alongside other young people who have the same disability at The Dome at St Joseph’s RC High School and Sports College in Horwich.
Not only that, the coach training the children, Ryan Lewis, is deaf — and the result is a group of youngsters with so much enthusiasm it could be bottled and sold.
Run in conjunction with Bolton charity Ear4Kidz — which helps hearing-impaired and deaf children and their families in the town — the pilot scheme has been warmly welcomed.
Now the community trust hopes to extend it further and produce teams to play in a league.
Jane Jones, chairman of Ear4Kidz, says the scheme had been extremely well received by the young people taking part, including her 10-year-old son, Bobby.
Although many of the children taking part also play in teams with hearing players, Mrs Jones, aged 39, says it could be a problem for some youngsters.
“Bobby had problems in hearing teams,” said Mrs Jones, who added that her son, a pupil at St Peter’s Smithills Dean School, now plays for a team who are understanding of his disability.
While it might seem obvious that deaf children cannot hear instructions, 30-year-old Mr Lewis pulls children to one side to help them understand what they are expected to do and to ensure they do not feel isolated on the pitch.
Mrs Jones, who lives in Smithills, said: “When deaf children are playing, their hearing team mates tend to forget they can’t hear what is going on around them.
“By playing with other youngsters with the same disability they are all in the same boat and they really respond to that.”
She says the sessions are “unusually silent and totally unlike any other football match”, but incredibly rewarding for the youngsters and the parents, especially those who are themselves deaf.
“It is a way for the children, and the parents who are deaf, to feel included in something that is usually not so inclusive,” she added.
Dave Maclean, who is sports participation co-ordinator of Bolton Wanderers Community Trust says the scheme has been a huge success.
“We are planning a big launch soon and have been really pleased with the response,” he said.
“Football can be quite challenging for these youngsters when they play in mainstream teams.
“You can imagine that when they are on the opposite side of the field and the coach is shouting at them they just can’t understand what is being said.”
Mr Maclean has been working hard to ensure news about the project gets out to those who can benefit from it and, as well as the taster sessions, children from Thomasson Memorial School are getting weekly tuition through the trust.
Thanks to sign language provided by an interpreter, every child is taken care of.
Mrs Jones said: “There are youngsters who are profoundly deaf, as Bobby is, and others who have cochlea implants.
“There are also children who only have sign language so it is a mixed group.”
What is clear, though, is that for all the differences between a hearing team and a team made up of children with hearing impairment, the love of football and the enthusiasm to play is equally important.
While inclusion is vital in many areas of life, Mrs Jones believes there are times, and this is one of them, when mixing with others who share a common disability will be of benefit.
“Just watching the children play makes you realise how much they get out of it,” she said.
Although the matches are a fairly quiet affair, the youngsters still have the ability to make themselves understood with typical footballing gestures, including flinging their hands in the air for a foul.
“They still have a way to make themselves understood,” Mrs Jones. added Anyone interested in finding out more about the scheme can ring Dave Maclean on 01204 673790 or Mrs Jones on 07834 710755.
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