The Challenges Of Deaf Soccer

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18-year-old Rebecca Dowling-Fitzpatrick is among the 20 soccer players chosen for the USA Deaf Women's Soccer Team. Dowling- Fitzpatrick was the goalkeeper for Desales High School that won a state championship in soccer last year.(Photo: Debbie Holmes, WOSU News)

The USA Men’s and Women’s deaf soccer teams will play exhibition matches tomorrow at Crew Stadium, as they prepare for the Deaf World Cup Games this summer.

18-year-old Rebecca Dowling-Fitzpatrick is among the 20 soccer players chosen for the USA Deaf Women’s Soccer Team. Dowling- Fitzpatrick was the goalkeeper for Desales High School that won a state championship in soccer last year. She was born deaf, but has worn a hearing aid most of her life.

In the exhibition games at Crew Stadium and in the World Cup Games, she won’t be able to wear one. None of the athletes will.

“In the hearing game, you use your voice and other people can hear you, behind you, in front of you, at the side of you, wherever. But in a deaf game, you have to be able to look at each other, keep your head up, know where everyone is, and that can be a hurdle if someone doesn’t do that.”

The hearing teams will be able to talk to each other, which could be an advantage.
Dowling-Fitzpatrick has almost total hearing loss in both ears. She also says it will be a challenge for her to play on defense instead of as goalkeeper, her normal position.

While the exhibition games will follow the standard U.S. Soccer Federation rules, interpreters will be on hand to use the American Sign Language or ASL to help players, referees, and coaches communicate with each other.

Dowling-Fitzpatrick does know ASL, but she says some players on her team do not.
The coach of the women’s team, Yon Struble says the team’s opponent will face its own challenges.

“The biggest difference for Otterbein is going to be the officiating. There’s no whistles, so most players are used to hearing a whistle and they stop. So there’s a professional courtesy. Quite simply, if there’s a foul and somebody sees the flag raised on the official everybody stops and put their hands up.”

Coordinator of the Exhibition Matches, Vincent Sabino played for the men’s deaf team in 2009. He says organizing these games is his way of giving back.

“Here in our own country we’ve not had that many events where we’ve been able to play in our own country, so I got the idea that maybe we should have some exhibition games to allow the deaf community to see what talented athletes we have in our deaf community.”
The women’s team will play Otterbein University, while the men’s team competes against players with the Crew Soccer Academy.

Dowling-Fitzpatrick is looking forward to playing the game even though it will be much quieter for her and her teammates.

“In soccer, when you make a mistake you can get up and try it again. You’ve still got more time to do it.”

Her mother Carla Dowling- Fitzpatrick says playing with other deaf players will be like a dream for her daughter.

“She has always had the requirement of being the different one. She’s never ever had a level playing field. This for her is the first time she’s ever played with anybody who had something in common with her in terms of deafness.”

The USA Deaf National Teams compete in the 2012 Deaf World Cup in Ankara,Turkey in July.

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