Double Delight for Hockey Coach Russell

Wendy Russell in coaching action

With awards season in full swing nominations are coming in left, right and centre for various categories and various prizes soon to be handed out. Wendy Russell, a hockey coach from Brighton could be one of those people who need to make some room in her trophy cabinet very soon.

She has been nominated for not one, but two awards. The first is for the Community Award at the prestigious SportsWomen of the Year Awards, whilst the second is Disability Coach of the Year in the UK Sport Coach Awards.

For those unfamiliar with her work, Wendy Russell has revolutionised the way deaf or hard of hearing young people take part in hockey. Prior to the start of her work there were no clubs running sessions for deaf or hard of hearing people. When the sessions began, they were the only ones of their kind in the whole of Great Britain. Russell explains the reasoning behind getting the sessions off the ground:

“In Sussex the only deaf only sports groups were football, cricket and multi-sports groups. If deaf people wanted to take part in any other sports they have to go to hearing clubs. For many deaf young people interacting with hearing players by attending hearing clubs can be intimidating and so deaf only clubs are a great way to encourage people to be more active.” she adds “I decided that I wanted to develop hockey sessions for deaf only players. I applied for Sportivate Funding and started Hove Hockey Hot Stars; sessions specifically for deaf players, their friends and family.”

With funding in place and armed with her knowledge as a qualified England Hockey Coach, she seemed well set to get the sessions started, however the absence of any British Sign Language (BSL) signs specific to hockey she encountered a problem that would definitely need to be overcome:

“I searched the internet to see whether there were any existing signs language to support the delivery of hockey and found that the only sign which existed was for the word hockey its self. I decided that to be able to communicate with players we needed to develop some specific sign language.”

“I worked with a deaf media company; local deaf and sensory units and local schools to create over 40 hockey specific signs to enable club volunteers to use during sessions. Although I am partially deaf, before starting these sessions I had little knowledge of sign language. I found that the signs created were simple to learn and use as many mimic the action of the skill its self plus I learnt a lot from the players themselves.”

The hockey specific sign language is now being rolled out by UK deaf sport, National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) and England Hockey, and will be used across the country. Teachers, coaches and participants now have access to hockey terminology across the UK, and are now in a position to facilitate other deaf or hard of hearing people to play hockey.

Despite the huge strides made thanks to the work Russell has undertaken, she remains typically humble and understated. When asked about her nominations she seems almost embarrassed:

“I was shocked when I had heard about the nominations. I love working with this group of players, we have such fun I hope these nominations encourage more clubs to start deaf hockey sections as we would love to play against other deaf teams.”

The first of the awards, the Community Award will be announced this Friday at the SportsWomen Awards whilst the UK Sport Coach Award follows on Tuesday 1 December.

Whether she wins these prestigious prizes or not, the work Wendy has done, and continues to do is something she and all of the hockey family can be immensely proud of.