Coaching with hearing loss: goes both ways


Kathi Mestayer


A recent email about hearing loss really grabbed my attention. And held on to it. It was a listserve posting by a hard-of-hearing lacrosse coach, Tom, who experienced a moment of insight that came out of the blue, as those moments so often do. I’ll let him tell it…

Tom the Lacrosse Coach’s Story

“I coach 12-14 year-olds in lacrosse, and last night at practice I had the most interesting interaction. There is a boy on the team, Isaiah, who is tremendously skillful for one so new to the sport (this is either his second or third year). But he frequently does his own thing rather than whatever the team is doing. He’s usually the last to start participating, and has a quiet personality.

I coach all different kinds of kids, from your typical boisterous jock type to some extreme introverts; new players (some who have never previously been active) to ones who have been on a field since they were five. Part of the challenge I enjoy is getting all those different types to come together, work toward a common goal, and learn to respect each other.

We were playing a new practice game last night, where they were running in circles around the goal, and I’d call out one kid’s name, and roll a ball out into the field. The kid I named was to run out and get the ball, keep it away from the other team, and then set up to try to score with his team. When it was Isaiah’s turn, his back was to the area I was rolling the ball out to. The other kids scrambled around to do their parts, while he trotted off, away from the ball.

Being ignored….or not?

I whistled the play over, and while all the kids started traipsing back into the starting formation, I went up to Isaiah to see if he understood the game we were playing. He nodded and said, “Sorry, sometimes I don’t hear really well.” Since lacrosse players wear helmets, this isn’t all that unusual — but then he said, “I have a lot of ringing in my ears all the time, my doctor calls it…” “Tinnitus,” we said together. I told him I have it, too, and often can’t understand people when I’m not looking at them. His eyes got big, and we agreed that sometimes it makes it hard to follow what’s going on.

That was my “aha” moment. I realized that a lot of his behavior, which I had been interpreting as aloofness, “too cool for school,” or passive defiance, was, in fact, because he couldn’t hear! I would have thought I’d be the last person to make that mistake!

On the same page, finally

Anyway – it was like a spring thaw between us. He got better at paying attention to me, and I got less peeved about him not “being with the program.” After practice, he came and sat down across from me and we talked about “stuff.” Then, he said goodbye when his parents came to get him (rather than just disappearing). What’s particularly funny to me about this is that I begin every season with a quick explanation about my hearing loss (so the team members won’t think I’m ignoring them if they ask a question I can’t hear). He was probably just standing in the back and nodding, like I sometimes do, waiting for the fun to start, and figuring he’d work out whatever coach was saying by watching what the other kids did, not knowing that I was saying I was hard-of-hearing, too!”

Thanks for sharing, Tom

What a touching story, for both Tom and Isaiah. In most cases, hard-of-hearing people never find out about the disconnects that impact our lives and relationships. One time, at the checkout counter in a convenience store, I asked the clerk to repeat something. She did, sounding a little peeved, so I mentioned that I was hard-of-hearing. “Oh!” she said, sounding surprised. “What did you think?” I asked. “I thought you were being a smart-aleck,” she clarified. Okay. Something in my tone, my timing, my body language, who knows? I can only wonder how often it happens, and I have no clue. That’s why it’s so great to hear this kind of story, when both parties bridge the gap, and are the better for it.

You just never know when you’re going to learn something important…or from whom.


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