Wendy Russell's sign language hockey journey continues

Wendy Russell in coaching action
Over the past month we have had various days and weeks helping to raise awareness for different topics, charities, organisations and more. We have seen Deaf awareness week, Mental Health Awareness week, International day of families, Volunteer week, coaching week and more. This week is Disability week but we wanted to celebrate all weeks in one with this fantastic story. 

Wendy Russell is an amazing coach who has volunteered her time to help create a supportive and inclusive environment for hearing impairment or deaf people. Her aim was to include and support them in our amazing sport of hockey.

Wendy first came on our radar about 4 years ago when she revolutionised the way deaf or hard of hearing young people take part in hockey at Brighton Hockey Club. 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. Wendy 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 was 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 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 was rolled out by UK deaf sport, National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) and England Hockey, and is being 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.

Today the sessions are still running, and she has new juniors joining all the time. The sessions are held on Tuesdays 6.40-7.30pm at their home pitch at Blatchington Mill school. Wendy has spoken to and given advice to many other coaches across the country about BSL and  hockey signs. They have either approached her face to face or seen the link on Youtube to all the signs and got in contact. 

Wendy hasn’t stopped there, she has also introduced BSL to hearing juniors at the club. This allows children to interact with someone who is hearing impaired or deaf, either at training, in matches or out and about. They are learning basic BSL skills to communicate with them. "The whole idea started as a way of helping those with a hearing impairment or deaf be able to access hockey, but also to include and support them in our amazing sport.’" Wendy explains "The statistic on deaf children being physical active out side of school PE lessons is still shocking to me, and if having this helps any coach or sports leader be able to say “we can support you and integrate you” then this is fantastic."

She continues "However, now we need to increase the skills of those who may interact with someone who has a hearing need. This could be from others in the players in the club, to coaches, umpires, volunteers and leaders. To make a supportive and inclusive environment." Wendy is keen to share and help others integrate these amazing ideas into training sessions. 

Do you have an inspiring story, email sarah.coleman@englandhockey.co.uk