Communication in the Deaflympics

In this post, I’m going to write a bit of my experience traveling in the SE Asia (Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong). During this trip, I attended the Deaflympics being held in Taiwan for the first time and as a person who has played a lot of sports, I’m familiar with these especially basketball.

Before I start, I wanted to share some facts on the Olympics.  The Deaflympics is the longest running multi-sport event next to the Olympics itself and was the first sporting event for athletes with a disability. It should be pointed out that no hearing aids or cochlear implants can be worn during games as to place everyone on an even field (a bit ironic since players are always looking for an edge against each other, regardlessly). Every player would have to take their aid off before they could play. I thought that was pretty interesting. I should look into what was discussed that led to the policy.

In basketball, the United States team has won the event each time since 1949. So, I was curious about that—why was America able to win every gold medal? I sat myself in the crowded gym, and watched the United States players doing their thing. They all moved beautifully thru their warm-up drills—lay-ups, dunks, passing, and shooting. A-ha, a thought flashed in my mind. Vast majority of the players have played on some collegiate level, division III, and some of them play for Gallaudet University, a member of the Capital Athletic Conference. It’s a competitive league in the DC area and they have played the sport for almost all their life.  By the time they’re on the court against other countries, they collectively must have at least more than 10,000 hours of playing time. So, it’s not hard to see why they’d be dominant and winning games.

One point I wanted to bring up is communication. The first thing that any person with a hearing loss has to overcome is communication. For that, we have sign language. I may be biased but I believe that American Sign Language is a well-established language, capable of expressing abstract thoughts and is easy to understand, (at least to me). So, when I looked at the U.S. basketball team in a huddle, it’s obvious to me that players readily understood their coach, getting constructive feedbacks and strategies on the upcoming plays. They had a plan after they came out of a huddle and then executed the plays. Communication was a factor, I thought. Then, I looked at the other team–Taiwan. There was minimal sign language going on and the coach didn’t know any sign language and was using an interpreter to communicate with their players. Taiwanese players had to look at both the coach and the interpreter at the same time. I didn’t see any play drawn up or discussed. From what I can surmise, the coach was just telling the players to move their feet, guard more closely, watch out for certain players and rebound the ball. That was probably the entire dialogue like what you would try to tell to your J.V. players in the middle school. They got out of the huddle, onto the court, and then got themselves blocked, screened, out-rebounded, and out-executed by the U.S. players. Final score: 82 to 44.

My argument is I think sign language is really important and I can only wish for all other players to have same kind of access that those U.S. basketball players had. There is another problem, though, they’d need to install a basketball rim in their backyard to catch up with the playing time total.