16 August, 2010

The Soccer Inside... US Deaf Soccer

...with Chris Jones, USA Deaf Soccer Men’s Goalkeeper and Ken Noll, a US Deaf Soccer Team Forward/Current US Deaf Soccer President.

In the wake of the World Cup in South Africa, many new fans, and some old ones, want to find something about soccer that relates to them. Some find a certain player whom they follow for the rest of their career. Some choose a team to follow. Here is why yours should be Chris Jones, Ken Noll and the USA Deaf Soccer team…

Wait. What? The US has a deaf soccer team? Yeah. Actually, I’m sure many of you that watched even a modicum of the 2010 World Cup were assaulted by the news that Slovenia had a team competing. Slovenia has a population of just over 2,000,000 people. In the US alone, according to a National Health Institute Study, we have about 1,000,000 people above the age of five that are considered functionally deaf.

Many of you might not even realize it, but you have cheered for a team that uses a mainstreamed deaf invention, the huddle. Yes, the huddle, as used in football, was created by deaf football players to keep opposing teams from reading their signing of plays, and this soon carried over into mainstream sports.

So, what’s my point? Well, it’s this: With this many functionally deaf people in the US and with a minimal requirement of communication during play in soccer, why do we not see or, no pun intended, hear about any deaf soccer players in any major soccer league in the world?

Chris Jones, the US Deaf Soccer Team’s keeper, and Ken Noll, a US Deaf Soccer Team Forward/Current US Deaf Soccer President, were kind enough to let us interview them on this subject and several others in this exclusive:

TSI: In relation to the question above, why haven’t we seen any deaf soccer players in any of the major leagues around the world?

Chris: This is a tough question and there is no real way to answer. What I can say is that many of the deaf players that have been with the men’s and women’s team over the years have obviously established that they are the best among the best deaf athletes. I personally believe that the level of play for deaf soccer is finally starting to catch up with those with normal hearing. Hopefully in the next few years, we’ll see some deaf players start to make the professional ranks.

Ken: I think it may be a simple case of demographics. We have had kids that have come very close [playing for the] Chicago Fire Reserves and Real Maryland PDL.

TSI: So, how are the players financially supported? Do they have careers outside of soccer?

Chris: This is an area that we struggle with on a day to day basis. Prior to each major tournament, or even training camps, players are required to fund-raise a set amount of money that will cover the expenses for that trip. These expenses range from hotel accommodations, food, uniforms, travel, tournament fees, etc. We are currently seeking sponsors that would be willing to help the team out not with just the tournaments and travel, but even to help bring the team together for training camps each year as the funding for this comes out of our own pockets. Many of the players on the team do have careers outside of soccer. On this team you’ll find doctors, lawyers, educators, personal business owners, and many players still in the field of academia ranging from early high school to college.

TSI: Do the players train together regularly, or is it similar to international call-ups for the national teams we are more familiar with?

Chris: We try to get together as often as possible but with the challenges of schools, work, and personal conflicts, it becomes very difficult for us to get our entire team together for each training camp. Our call ups are mainly we find a player that is deaf and has soccer experience, invite them to the camps for a tryout, and assess [their skill level] at the camps.

TSI: Where does the USA Deaf Soccer team (men and women) currently play?

Chris: In the past we have had training camps in several locations in the country. For the past few years, we’ve been calling Pensacola, Florida our home base.

Ken: We have also played in California, Atlanta, and Rochester, NY.

TSI: Does that vary on US soil depending on the opponent, or is it localized to one or two locations?

Chris: In an effort to accommodate all the players traveling from different parts of the country, we may be moving our training camps around the country.

TSI: What is something we should know about our USA Deaf Soccer team that isn’t currently listed on the site?

Chris: We’re all regular people. We have every day jobs and we have every day commitments. We’re not professional athletes making millions of dollars a year. Many of us go through the same daily routines as the average American. We just have being deaf or hard-of-hearing to add to it.

TSI: Are there any noticeable differences between a Deaf Soccer match and a match most people see on TV, such as how the referee communicates with players?

Chris: One of the biggest differences you’ll see is with the referees. They have flags with them along with a whistle to display a start/stoppage in play. However, even with these flags and the whistle, play sometimes continues for a few more seconds before everyone realizes the referee has called stoppage.

TSI: Is there some minimum level of hearing loss to qualify for the US Deaf Soccer team?

Chris: There is in fact a minimum level and that level is you must have hearing loss of 55 decibels in your BEST ear. The reason I capitalize the word best, is that a lot of players that want to try out for the team have a hearing loss of at least 55 decibels in one year but their other year is less than 55. One thing they do for deaf soccer, especially for those who have a cochlear implant or those, like me, who have hearing aids, must take them out before the game. The referees will come around and check to make sure you have nothing on/in. With technology improving and hearing aids getting smaller and powerful, there have been cases where players will have their hearing aids on while playing. If this happens, that team forfeits the match and the result goes down as a 3-0 loss regardless of the score during the match.

TSI: So, we have to know, which is more annoying, the vuvuzelas or the Jubalani ball introduced for this last World Cup?

Chris: As one of the few players on the team fortunate enough to wear hearing aids and hear fairly well, the vuvuzelas drove me crazy. I turned on the Mexico vs. South Africa and swore that there was something wrong with the stereo. After letting it go for a few minutes I realized the bee hive sound was actually coming from the fans blowing the vuvuzelas. The ball doesn’t really bother me, even being a goalkeeper. Each world cup a new ball comes out and everyone has complaints about it, but that’s how it’s always going to be. When they design a new ball and happen to design one that tends to knuckle a lot after being struck, people are going to complain. Naturally goalkeepers are the first to complain and will spend much time after practice getting used to just the ball itself but that’s how the game has evolved and the players have to evolve with it.

Ken: Definitely the vuvuzelas, but some of us can’t hear at all so the answer would then be that damn ball!

TSI: Is there any kind of special ceremony or celebration after a win for you guys (like how international teams trade jerseys after a game)?

Chris: After a game you’ll see the players shaking hands and even trying to communicate (as there is no universal sign language) but as far as trading jerseys, this is a financial issue. Each player is given 2 jerseys, home and away, there are no extras for us to trade. At the end of a tournament during closing ceremonies all the teams come together and trade their own personal gear, be it a t-shirt that has USA Deaf Soccer on it or a hat with the team emblem on it. That’s really all we have to work with for now.

TSI: Sorry about the loss to Russia in the quarterfinals of last year’s Deaflympics. How would one go about following the USA Deaf Soccer team online? Are any of your games broadcast or are the friendly games on the upcoming schedule listed anywhere so that others can keep track of the team and follow along with their favorite sport?

Chris: As the webmaster for the team, this is something I plan to work on for the future. I do not have the most experience with web design and consider myself to be self taught. I would like to find a way to broadcast the games and stream them online. The US Deaf Soccer website is a site that I maintain on my own and would like to try and expand it as much as possible. We currently try to update as much as possible, but those updates come after the game is played and sometimes fans back home won’t see the updates until early in the morning or late at night due to the time difference. Stat tracker, live web feeds of games, video interviews, and behind the scenes are some ideas I have for expanding the site and getting back to the fans at home while the teams are away in another country. Right now, the site is updated as often as needed but I would like to expand it more and get more national recognition for it.

TSI: Thank you Chris and Ken, for your time.

For those of you that know someone that might want to play for US Deaf Soccer, feel free to contact Mike Hansen for the men’s squad or Felicia Schroeder for the women’s.

There is plenty more to Deaf Soccer than I can get into here, so visit their site, and support the US in its’ journey to the Pan American Games in Brazil, 2011.


  1. how do u people noe wen da match is over? how bout a free kick how do u noe wen to kick?

  2. Not sure what you mean, as I'm not deaf, nor do I play for on a deaf soccer team, but if I understand your question correctly, a lot of the deaf game is very similar to what you see on tv in EPL, La Liga and MLS. They usually have game clocks available to see the time, but additionally, when a foul happens or halftime/full time is called, the refs hold their hands and a flag up. As players see these, they stop and hold their hands up so that other players can see and thus the game stops.


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