Andy Palmer: What could the England Rugby team learn from their deaf counterparts?

Posted on March 4, 2014

I read on the Telegraph’s website this week that the England Rugby coaching team are trying to find ways to help their performance on the field since the crowd noise at Twickenham, England’s home ground, has become so loud that the players are finding it difficult to communicate. According to coach Mike Catt, the players inability to communicate without hearing each other caused a few scoring opportunities to be squandered during their recent match against Ireland.

To try and combat the problem, the coaching team have begun to use disco lights in training to encourage the players to rely less on their ears and more on their eyes. Scrum-half Danny Care (the guy who puts the ball into the scrum) explains the system:

“They are basically disco lights,” he says.

“There are six or seven lights dotted around on a wall and different coloured lights would come on intermittently. You’d be practising your drills, but keep your head up to see the lights. Put into context, it’s like me running into a ruck. You don’t want tunnel vision so you need to be also looking around for your next move.

“Red light tells you to go there, and a green light somewhere else. I’ll see a colour, shout it out and go that way. We’ve got a nightclub going on downstairs and we go through a few moves and dance around!”

There is, of course, an England rugby team that doesn’t have to rely on sound to communicate instructions at all; the England Deaf Ruby team. Maybe they could teach their hearing counterparts a thing or two about how to cope. I spoke to Lyndon James, Secretary to England Deaf Rubgy Union, about how the deaf players do it. Is it sign language?

“Not all of our players sign but those who do have no problems communicating with each other.” said Lyndon.

“As signers know, signing is just as fast as the spoken word, but still readable regardless of noise and over a long distance. There is a disadvantage to the extent that it is almost impossible to sign while actually in play.”

“As for the hearing game, I have long been of the view that by adopting a few simple BSL (British Sign Language) signs, any team can have the best lineout signals. With a little more expertise, any team could develop sufficient signs to run all their set moves almost without the spoken word.”

So there we have it. Learning a bit of sign language could go a long way on the pitch but as Lyndon says, it’s impossible to sign during play. So is there a way of learning from deaf players to improve visual awareness without using disco lights?

It’s been proven that deaf people have enhanced vision compared to hearing people thanks to changes in the way the brain works; but most of the reported advantages are present in people who have been deaf from birth. Enhanced peripheral vision and the ability to notice smaller movements from further away are the main benefits.

As well as turning international rugby training sessions into to a scene resembling a fight at a music festival, maybe the odd training game wearing earplugs, games played in total silence or introducing a bit of BSL might help England get the edge over the opposition that they’re looking for.

In any case, the England Deaf team are already way ahead.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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