Deaf Sports Events22nd November 2014

Smiles all round at Deaf Golf Taster Session

Providing deaf aware golf taster sessions draws in youngsters to give it a try

by Sarah Lawrence

There are only a few things in life that give greater pleasure than seeing children smiling and laughing with enjoyment. At Ridgeway Golf4All, close to Caerphilly Mountain in South Wales, that was the sight that greeted all those that had worked to make golf taster sessions available to deaf youngsters from across South Wales on Sunday afternoons.

Faced with long-standing barriers to entry and participation in most mainstream sport, deaf youngsters often face exclusion from an early age. Even where sports clubs advertise themselves as embracing everyone regardless of background or disability, a lack of awareness, training techniques and communication strategies, often lead to functional exclusion even if it is not intended.

With an absence of deaf youngsters joining the ranks of Wales Deaf Golf Association, a plan was hatched to host a pilot programme in South East Wales to encourage deaf youngsters to try out golf. With planning support from Golf Development Wales, Disability Sport Wales and the Ridgeway Golf Club, the first of the Sunday afternoon sessions was set to begin at 3pm on the 16th November. With no marketing or publicity budget, the problem was how to let families of deaf children know that the sessions were going to be run, effective communication being essential if all deaf children were to be offered the opportunity to take part.

Enlisting the support of the Local Authority it was planned that an information poster would be sent to the home of every deaf child in that council area. Through sport development officers it was also hoped other councils in the surrounding area would follow suit. Ultimately, it is through the direct email contact of the National Deaf Children’s Society in Wales, that best contact was made, with the majority of the deaf youngsters learning about the golf sessions through that route.

With six weeks training of all the staff at the golf club behind us, I was confident that the club as a whole would provide a warm and deaf aware welcome to the deaf youngsters and their families. Arriving early at the club, Oli, the young golf pro who would lead the golf sessions looked nervous, but as the youngsters started to arrive he started rushing around making plans and ensuring everything was going to run smoothly.

Because most children are taught in mainstream schools these days, an experience that can be quite isolating, just having these youngsters in the same place gave them the opportunity to know that they were not on their own. With a range of hearing aids, cochlear implants, signers, speakers and lip-readers, I was so pleased to see Oli and Alex, one of the young members at the club who had come along to some of the deaf awareness sessions, instantly making sure the youngsters were looking at them as they used a mixture of communication techniques to get their teaching across.

Within seconds of starting, smiles were aplenty, not just the children who seemed to be hitting a new ball frantically every second, but also the siblings and parents. Supported by some of my good friends, it was suddenly all hands on deck with people dashing around for more balls, jumping in to help with a little coaching, giving parents information about the golfing programme and generally just helping out.

Firing balls at upturned umbrellas and buckets, the youngsters, quiet and shy on arrival were slowly growing in confidence and delight as the balls were being hit further and further up the range. The great thing about golf, is that with good tuition, anyone can do it and we were fortunate to have two guys who were very accomplished golfers and great teachers. Taking the opportunity to film a few of the youngsters in action, the smiles on their faces went from ear to ear, and that was such a relief.

One thing that did disappoint me were some of the stories about the education of these deaf youngsters, with almost every teacher of the deaf subject of our discussions seeming to be anti-BSL. Some of the parents had taken a Level 1 BSL course after learning that their child was deaf, only to be told either by the hearing therapist or teachers that if their children learned BSL it would inhibit their ability to talk. Trusting and believing what they were told, BSL was banished by all but one of the families.

With unbridled energy stemming from these youngsters and despite the ball machine holding thousands of balls, a short break was needed for some re-stocking, allowing the children and their parents to get a much needed drink. Half expecting people to leave during this lull in proceedings, every child remained, making their way keenly back onto the range when the balls were replenished.

I must confess to being quietly delighted at the level of enjoyment and golfing prowess that these youngsters were showing. One of the girls in particular was very shy when she first arrived, but as the session went on she blossomed, beaming with delight towards the end when they were asked to compete as two teams to try and get the most balls into the targets that had been set for them.

Chatting throughout the afternoon with the parents, all of them commented about how much their child/children had enjoyed it and without exception, everyone said they would be back the following week. Sitting down with Oli when the children had gone, we were able to reflect on a deaf sporting gateway that had got off to a decent start, providing deaf friendly coaching, deaf aware staff and a brief sense of community for these young people.

"I know I'm only young, but I've been playing and teaching golf for a while now and that was one of the highlights of my career so far," a buoyant Oli told me. "The more I learn about the barriers deaf children face in sport, the more I want to help overcome that in my sport - golf. I can't wait for next week, especially as a few of these youngsters showed great potential within hours of picking up a golf club."  

Now, I’m looking forward to tomorrow's session and seeing how Oli develops these deaf youngsters even further.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Events

22nd November 2014