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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Rosie Mullender

‘Never let yourself be stereotyped’: how a Deaf football coach became a role model

After years playing for Leeds Deaf FC, Young acquired his FA Coach Level 2 badge and set up Leeds Deaf Juniors FC in 2013.
After years playing for Leeds Deaf FC, Young acquired his FA Coach Level 2 badge and set up Leeds Deaf Juniors FC in 2013. Photograph: Joanne Crawford/The Guardian

Paul Young is proud to be a role model for the Deaf children he coaches in football every Saturday morning in the town of Farsley, West Yorkshire. Born profoundly deaf (deaf refers to the sensory condition of deafness, while Deaf refers to belonging to the Deaf community) to hearing parents, he grew up in a world that’s very different from the one experienced by today’s young Deaf children, and is inspiring proof that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to.

“When I was growing up, we didn’t have the same level of accessibility or the written communication like texts, social media and email that make things that bit easier for young Deaf people today,” says Young, 53. “There are also better opportunities out there for Deaf people now. People can say with confidence: ‘I’m Deaf, so what? That’s just me.’

“As a child, I went to a Deaf school in Boston Spa, which used an oral approach to education. I communicated with my teachers, classmates and parents via lip-reading and speaking, but after moving on to college, I found myself in an entirely different world. I had to sit in the front row to lip-read my lecturers, and as they walked around the room, I missed out on a lot of information.

“I was very conscious of my deafness, and sometimes struggled to follow the conversation if there were more than two or three people talking. I’d try my best to work out what was being said, but it was hard work.”

In their customary green and white kit, Farsley Celtic Deaf Colts FC compete on the pitch
  • Farsley Celtic Deaf Colts FC compete in their customary green and white kit

It was only when Young headed to Sheffield Hallam University that he learned British Sign Language (BSL), and a new world of communication opened up to him.

“There’s a wide spectrum in the Deaf community – most people lip-read, then some only speak, some only sign, and others use a mixture of signs and speaking,” he says. “When I went to Sheffield, it was the first time I’d met Deaf people who only used BSL, so I learned to sign by watching them – and that helped me to become part of the university’s Deaf community.”

Throughout school, college and university, Young pursued his passion for football, and after graduation he played for Leeds Deaf FC in a Saturday league and National Deaf Cup competitions around the UK. Having worked his way up from secretary of Leeds Deaf FC to chairman, in 2012 Young retired from playing and began his coaching career.

“I could see there was a gap in football provision for Deaf children. When it comes to playing hearing football, communication is the biggest challenge for Deaf children, who may not hear whistles or shouts from teammates,” he says. “I wanted to help give them the confidence they need to play, and to help build up their skills and social interaction.

“Because I’ve got good speech and can also sign, I knew I could work with both hearing and Deaf people, and create a bridge between those two worlds.”

As there are a number of ways to be affected by deafness, Young says that deaf matches are played silently, with players signing at one another, using gestures or lip-reading.

“Players are not allowed to use hearing aids or cochlear implants, they must be taken off so all players have to rely on their eyesight. If we play against hearing opposition, players can wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, it is up to them.”

Paul Young standing in front of a Farsley sign, holding a football
Quote: “I enjoy showing the hearing parents of Deaf children what they can achieve”

With the help of an interpreter, Young went through an FA Coach Level 2 course, then in 2013, set up Leeds Deaf Juniors FC – now known as Farsley Celtic Deaf Colts FC – with the aim of being a role model for young Deaf children.

“Each week, I coach keen footballers aged seven to 14, hoping to inspire and instil a sense of pride in them,” he says. “I enjoy showing the hearing parents of Deaf children what they can achieve. Through me, they can see that with the right support and communication, their child could become a football coach, a manager – whatever they want to be.”

Young, a quality manager for a door manufacturer, is also keen for hearing people of all ages to gain more insight into the lives of Deaf people. “We have our own culture, our own language, and our own understanding of what it is to be deaf, and it helps if hearing people are mindful that we have different needs,” he says. “But at the end of the day, we also have the same interests as everyone else, and want the same thing: to get involved, and be included.”

Young hopes that the Cadbury Fingers Sign with Fingers campaign, in partnership with the National Deaf Children’s Society, will help increase understanding of the Deaf community among hearing people. The campaign encourages adults and children to learn some simple BSL – such as “Which team do you support?” and “How are you?” – to help Deaf people feel included. Being able to share those moments that bring people together makes a world of difference, whether that’s cheering on your team or sitting down for a cup of tea.

Paul Young leaning against the pitch-side railings
  • The children Young has coached have gone on to play in both deaf and hearing leagues

“I think it’s a great thing for everyone to learn how to sign so they can communicate with Deaf people,” Young says. “It’s just another language to learn, like French or German, and the earlier children learn sign language, the more awareness they’ll have of Deaf people as they get older. It breaks down boundaries, so when they meet a Deaf child they’ll think: ‘OK, that’s normal.’ Hopefully, campaigns like Cadbury’s will help build a society that’s more inclusive and aware of Deaf culture.”

As for young Deaf people who’d like to get into football, Young wants to encourage them in any way he can. “Seeing the children I’ve coached growing into men, and moving into both the deaf and hearing leagues to play, I feel a real sense of fatherly pride – it makes coaching so rewarding,” he says. “I’d advise Deaf children who worry they can’t achieve the same things as their hearing peers to seek support wherever they can, to look up to their role models, and never let themselves be stereotyped. And above all, never give up.”

Head over to the Sign with Fingers hub to learn a little bit of BSL and for tips on how to communicate with a deaf person

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