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Note: This student essay focuses on Deaf and hearing volleyball players playing separately on different teams (Deaf team, hearing team). However, many Deaf athletes have experience playing together with hearing athletes, sometimes as the only Deaf player on the team. For more information read the additional note listed below the essay.


Volleyball and the Deaf:

Julia Leavitt

March 06 2020

There is a common misconception that people who are Deaf or hard of hearing cannot do things as well as people who can hear. Some of these activities include writing, driving, singing, playing music, and athletics. People who are Deaf and hard of hearing can do these things and more. I was curious about how Deaf people engage with different areas of sports, where hearing is thought to be vital. This essay focuses on volleyball in particular, how people who are Deaf communicate in a fast-paced sport, and how coaches communicate information quickly.

Volleyball is a fast-paced game, and there are many components that require lots of communication. On hearing teams, players use vocalization to call out things like "Mine," "here," "touch" as well as other things as the game is being played. When watching a Deaf volleyball match, the ways the players communicate can be observed from the stands (Gallaudet Bison, 2019). For example, when calling for a specific set, the hitters hold the hand sign for the number that represents the set they want (i.e., an outside hitter most often wants a 4 or a 5, and a middle a 1 or a 2). When on defense, players often "call" the ball by waving their hand or by making it clear they are committing to the pass, and other players should "back off." Players also communicate certain information before the play begins, such as when the setter is in the front row or if there is an open shot for hitters to take.

Another difference between hearing and Deaf volleyball is coaching. If a Deaf team has a Deaf coach, the coach is very likely to communicate with the players through sign language. However, if a Deaf team has a hearing coach, there are a few different ways they can relay information. Some hearing coaches who do not know sign language, will have an interpreter on the bench to interpret their verbal instructions. "Seventy-three hearing coaches of post-secondary athletes who were Deaf and hard of hearing and twenty-two post-secondary athletes who were Deaf with hearing coaches were asked to complete a survey" (Rochon, 2006). The results determined that the most effective and common way hearing coach's communicated was having ASL interpreters who interpreted the coaches information. Athletes who had coaches communicate directly with them not only showed enhanced performance and attitude, but also created a positive relationship with their coach (Rochon, 2006). It's believed that the direct communication lessened the communication barrier, allowing a positive coach athlete relationship to form, which improved the player's attitude and performance (Rochon, 2006).

Due to the differences in communication on the court/ field etc., the Deaf community has their own national games called the Deaflympics. Though there is nothing stopping Deaf athletes from competing in the Olympic games, the Deaflympics are rather effective for team sports, where the players all use the same form of communication. There have been Deaf athletes in primarily hearing pro leagues and the Olympics before, such as Curtis Pride in MLB, Kenny Walker in the NFL, and Terence Parkin who was an Olympic swimmer (Berke, 2019). Nothing stopped these athletes from succeeding in an environment filled with hearing coaches, teammates, and opponents. However, as stated on the Deaflympics home page, "The aims of the Deaflympics include the: physical and mental well-being of Deaf sports people; provision of opportunities for Deaf persons to participate in elite sports; bringing together of athletes from around the world in a quadrennial sports competition; and promotion of the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) principles throughout the world thereby creating global goodwill in the Deaf community" (Deaflympics). Referring back to volleyball, the Deaflympics cancels out the clash of different forms of communication, giving Deaf athletes the ability to perform under the most "ideal" circumstances.

The belief that Deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes are not as good at sports as hearing people, is completely and utterly false. People who are Deaf and hard of hearing have the same abilities as those who can hear, and oftentimes are better at things than most hearing people. Sports are no exception. It's much easier for players to communicate if the team is all Deaf. Limitations occur when a team is not all Deaf, and don't know how to communicate among themselves. Communication with coaches can be solved by hiring an interpreter. Events created specifically for Deaf and hard of hearing people's abilities are one way for people of the Deaf community to come together and embrace their deafness. No person should feel less abled because of a hearing loss, or any other disability.



Berke, Jamie. "Sports Activities and Competitions for Deaf People." Very Well Health, About Inc. (DotDash), 11 Aug. 2019.

"Deaflympics - Regulations." Welcome!,

Gallaudet Bison. "WVB: Gallaudet vs Catholic." Youtube, 2 Oct. 2019.

Rochon, Wendy, et al. "Effectiveness of American Sign Language in Coaching Athletes Who Are Deaf." Online Submission, Online Submission, 27 Oct. 2006. EBSCOhost,

Tanaka, Miya. "Deaf Community Looks to Bring Their Own Olympics to Japan after 2020." Japan Times, 4 Oct. 2018. EBSCOhost,



Additional Note from a Deaf/HoH competitive athlete about their experience competing with hearing teammates and/or coaches:


Correspondence from 05/09/2022. The Deaf/HoH anonymous contributor writes:


"I have never competed as a deaf athlete, or in a specifically deaf event. I have never had a deaf coach, although my running coach knows I'm deaf/hh. As an outrigger paddler, my coach had experience with deaf athletes and as soon as I told her I couldn't hear commands, she taught me the signals she had used in the past. However, when I paddled for the men's team, they were derogatory and mostly made fun of me for not being able to hear. I'm a competitive distance runner. I don't think of myself as deaf when I'm running - I feel complete and as if all of me is doing what I was born to do. It's not that I disregard my deafhood, but that every part of me is contributing to this ability that is totally me. As a deaf competitive runner, there are challenges competing in the hearing athletic world. There are never ASL interpreters to let me know what the announcer is saying. I can't hear the announcements are races, and twice this season I missed the race start. I have to focus on what's going on to make sure I start on time. In one race, I was warming up across a bridge from the race and looked over to see the race start without me. I had to pass everyone in the race, and ended up in 4th place! I have had hearing friends say that I shouldn't run long miles alone. But I run alone most of the time and I feel completely safe. I never feel that being deaf/hh affects my athletic ability. There is a "fun" deaf moment at every race - I often hit the podium, but I usually can't hear the announcements. I check the leaderboard and try to always know my placing, and when I hear clapping and see no one heading for the podium, I know it's me! I qualified for the Chicago Marathon last year. I heard they play "Born to Run" at the start of every marathon in Chicago, but I thought I probably wouldn't hear it so I often put headphones in and played it very loud while I visualized the race. When I actually got to Chicago, I found that my qualifying time had weirdly placed me directly in front of the speaker, so I heard the whole song! After the race, I was alone except for one other disabled athlete in partying right in front of the speakers at the finisher party. I signed the song and the musician sang part of it to me. :)"



Notes:  Also see: Deaf Sports 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

 ASL and Football 2, 3, 4

 Deaf Snowboarding

 Deaf Basketball 2, 3, 4

 Deaflympics 2, 3, 4

 Deaf Athletes

 Deaf Baseball 2

 Deaf Tennis

 Deaf Hockey

 Deaf Wrestling

 Deaf Swimming

 Deaf Snow Skiing

 Deaf Golf 2

 Deaf Cycling

 Deaf Gymnastics

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