Sports for Children with Hearing Loss
Sports can provide a number of physical, social and mental benefits for children of all ages. Whether it’s on the field, court, track or course, children who engage in athletics enjoy a variety of health rewards that lead to positive habits and practices throughout life.
The benefits of playing sports are especially important for children who are deaf and hard of hearing. While families of children with hearing loss may be hesitant to sign up for youth sports due to physical or social concerns, there are steps that can be taken to help make the experience enjoyable for everyone involved.
Benefits of Sports for Children with Hearing Loss
The advantages of playing sports for children with hearing loss are very similar to those experienced by their hearing peers. First, sports provide a physical outlet that improves overall health and well-being.
Socially, sports are a huge asset for children with hearing loss, who can sometimes feel isolated or different. Being a part of a team, interacting with teammates and competitors, getting comfortable in social situations and educating peers about hearing loss are all ways in which sports provide a positive avenue for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Anthony Galindo has been a CCHAT student since he was in preschool. Now in the Primary class, Anthony, 9, participates in organized baseball, football and wrestling. His mom, Marisa, never wanted to limit his activities based on his hearing loss, and she has seen significant growth from Anthony since he began playing sports.
“The best part of having my son play sports is watching him grow and gain the confidence he needed,” Marisa says. “He advocates for himself to friends and coaches, and he feels proud to show off his implants and explain how they work. Children communicate through play, and this is how he builds friendships.”
Sports can also lead to better mental health and improved self-esteem for children with hearing loss. The benefits of feeling physically fit and socially accepted, combined with learning a skill and becoming proficient in a sport, can lead to a strong sense of self-worth. Children with hearing loss can take this feeling into their day-to-day activities, including academics and home life.
Tips for Families Considering Sports for Their Child with Hearing Loss
Despite the aforementioned benefits, it is natural to feel some hesitation about enrolling your child with hearing loss in sports. There could be some social anxiety regarding your child being accepted by his/her peers, and you may be worried about your child struggling to hear during games and practices, or you may simply be afraid to damage expensive hearing-assistive technology during game play. All of these concerns can be mitigated with a few helpful tips.
Helping Your Child Feel Comfortable Socially
The thought that your child with hearing loss will struggle to fit in with hearing peers in a sports environment is a common sentiment. However, many people find that teammates and coaches are very welcoming and go above and beyond to help everyone feel comfortable.
Kendall King, a CCHAT alumni student, has played organized sports since she was 6 years old. Now a high school senior, Kendall plays competitively for her school’s basketball and volleyball teams.
Kendall points to her teammates as ones who have both helped her adapt and motivated her to continue playing.
“I’ve always loved the team bonding with everyone I’ve played with,” Kendall says. “Meeting new people who love the sport like I do makes it way more fun to play. My teammates always make sure I understand what the coaches are saying when I don’t understand or hear them.”
Marisa says the response to Anthony from teammates, coaches and other parents has been one of overwhelming acceptance – and some surprise.
“We usually save the explanation about his disability until after the first introduction,” Marisa says. “We do this so no one thinks less of him or tries to shield him because they may think he is not capable. We usually get a response of, ‘Wow, we had no idea!’"
For those hesitant, Marisa advises that families jump in and give it a try.
“I believe sports are truly important for their social well-being. It was important for me to get Anthony into sports because he showed interest in it at a very young age,” she says. “His determination was enough for me to put my fears aside and give it a go.”
Helping Children Improve Listening Comprehension During Sports
Communication is key during sports, and whether it is a practice or game situation, sports lend themselves to loud environments where listening and speaking can be a challenge for children with hearing loss. Being constantly aware of this issue can help improve your child’s ability to communicate.
Kendall is very open with her teammates and coaches about her needs. She positions herself as close as possible to those speaking, and her teammates, aware of her hearing loss, make concerted efforts to ensure Kendall understands instructions.
“We make sure all the team and coaches know that Anthony may not always hear,” Marisa says. “He benefits from eye contact and gestures when things get pretty loud and rowdy.”
Some children with hearing loss may also benefit from the use of a transmitter or FM system. Similar to a classroom setting where a teacher wears a microphone, a coach can improve sound quality for a player with hearing loss by using a hearing-assistive technology system that transmits sound directly to the child’s hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Protecting Listening Devices During Competitive Play
Hearing aids and cochlear implants are very valuable pieces of equipment, and the fear of damaging these devices during play is warranted. While no measures are completely foolproof, there are precautions to take in order to protect your hearing-assistive technology.
Marisa has found her own accommodations, using a nylon sweatband and double-sided tape to prevent Anthony’s cochlear implants from falling off. Ever resourceful, Marisa has made adjustments to batting helmets, which keep Anthony’s devices safe and allow him to wear his cochlear implants during games.
For Kendall, the easiest step to take was the use of a headband. Wearing a headband around her cochlear implants has helped keep the devices secure and even helped withstand some light contact during competitive play.
Kendall has experienced a loss of sound quality when implants become impacted by sweat. For this, she relies on the headband to absorb some moisture, but she also recommends families keep a dry case at home for postgame use.
Finding the Right League or Team
For children with hearing loss who are getting their introduction into organized sports, finding the appropriate level of competition can be very important. Joining an ultra-competitive team may overwhelm your child if he/she is not prepared for the experience.
National groups, like Little League, Pop Warner and American Youth Soccer Organization, welcome children of all skill levels, and in some cases, these organizations provide specific leagues for children with special needs.
You may also find benefits in introducing sports to your child with hearing loss in a smaller environment, with friends and family members. Gaining comfort and confidence in a familiar setting may lead to better outcomes when your child joins an organized league.
Getting Your Child With Hearing Loss in the Game
Sports provide a variety of benefits for children with hearing loss, from improved physical condition to enhanced self-esteem and social skills. It is natural to have concerns, but the only way to see if sports are a fit for your family is to get in the game. Don’t be afraid to try new activities if one isn’t working for you – CCHAT students and alumni participate in a wide range of sports, including soccer, football, baseball, softball, gymnastics, volleyball, swimming, horseback riding, golf, wrestling, tennis, track and more.
If you have questions regarding sports for your child with hearing loss, use our contact page to get in touch with an experienced CCHAT staff member or a current CCHAT parent who may have first-hand knowledge to help you. Read more about McCall Madriago, a CCHAT alumni student who has benefited immensely from her career on the soccer field.