FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
So… Why deaf tennis?
We believe that tennis is a fantastic sport for everyone, and that as deaf and hard of hearing people we can compete against peers with normal hearing without altering the rules of the game. At the same time we know that as deaf and hard of hearing people we have communication needs that affect our interaction with other people in the mainstream “hearing” tennis community. Through deaf tennis we can support and encourage each other in our tennis careers in the hearing community. Deaf tennis provides us with an excuse to get together at least occasionally and enjoy some tennis and social activities. National and international deaf tennis events provide a way to showcasing the best of deaf tennis, and help identify and motivate those tennis players who have achieved a high standard. There are lots of deaf and hard of hearing tennis players who are "quiet achievers" in the hearing tennis community, and by example they can lead and motivate the younger generations - and we are always keen to have people in this category feel particularly welcome.
What is the playing standard?
We cater to a diverse range of playing standards, from beginners (of all ages) upwards. Deaf tennis at the international events includes players who play on the futures circuit, with wins over players in top 100 on the ATP tour.
Am I deaf enough?
Many people who describe themselves as "hard-of-hearing"/hearing impaired/cochlear implantee/"a bit deaf"/etc are at first unsure of whether they are deaf enough to become involved in deaf tennis. Our answer is that whatever your degree of deafness, if you are keen to meet other deaf people from anywhere across the deafness spectrum, you will be welcome in deaf tennis! It should be noted that for official championship events that DTA follows the criteria established by Deaf Sports Australia, which is that participants must have a hearing loss of at least 40dB in the better ear, and that hearing aids shall be removed during competition, which helps ensure an even playing field by removing any possible reliance on hearing. The threshold for international competition is 55dB in the better ear.
Do you have any tips for communicating with deaf and hard of hearing people?
We certainly do, see the commication tips area of our website. We are always keen to help out in any way we can, and every situation is a bit different. If you would like to chat, please get in touch.
Do I need to know sign language?
Some people wonder whether they need to be able to sign before they become involved. The answer is that all are welcome - including those who do not sign. That said, many of our members are fluent in sign language (Auslan - Australian Sign Language), and signing is a significant feature of the deaf community and signing is encouraged in the interests of inclusiveness. If you are involved with deaf tennis for a few years, it is quite likely you will learn some sign langage skills along the way, and many of our members use their involvement in deaf tennis as a springboard for learning Auslan as adults.
Should deaf people join their local (hearing) tennis club?
Definitely yes! Joining a local (hearing) tennis club is the best way to play tennis regularly, and many clubs are very welcoming to deaf people, and coaches are usually prepared to make a little extra effort to included deaf people in their programs. Most of us play regularly at our local hearing clubs, and greatly look forwards to the occasional deaf tennis event or hitting program!
What competition opportunities are available?
Much depends on where you live. We have annual state and national championships most years - see the events calendar. Sometimes we put teams into hearing competition (mainly in Melbourne and Sydney). Some of us also travel together to play in mainstream hearing tournaments, which usually makes for a great weekend away! Every 4 years there is the Australian Deaf Games (next in Geelong in Victoria in 2012). There are also possibilities of international representation, including the Deaflympics, the World Deaf Tennis Championships and some Open deaf tennis championships - although if your interest is in this area you should be aware that the entry criteria is a hearing loss of greater than 55dB in the better ear.
Where are you based?
We do not own or control any venues, and are able to access venues based on the requirements of each particular event. We are very widely geographically dispersed - deaf people are all over Australia!
How are deaf people disadvantaged on the tennis court when playing against a hearing opponent?
Even within the deaf tennis community there is a range of opinions on this topic! Much depends on individual experience and circumstance, and philosophy.
Many hearing tennis players believe that there are useful auditory cues in hearing an opponent strike the ball, which can help with anticipation of spin and power. Some deaf people feel at a disadvantage in this regard, whereas others believe that as a deaf person they have enhanced visual acuity and awareness that more than compensates.
Let calls on serve are a potential source of disadvantage. Even with hearing aids, deaf people will often miss let calls, or due to a range of issues associated with directional hearing, have difficulty attributing the source of a sound. This is rarely an issue if hearing opponents are calling lets honestly.
In tennis, concentration is a major issue. Particularly where line calls are not communicated effectively (e.g. by stopping play when the ball is out, and using typical umpiring gestures relating to line calls) deaf people are faced with uncertainty, and distracted from their tennis by the need to work on communication with their opponents, who in the heat of the battle may lack their usual goodwill for a friendly discussion(!) At times players may need to discuss issues such as line calls, toilet breaks, resolve disputes over scoring, etc, and the extra effort required on the part of the deaf person to interact with their hearing opponent, representing further distraction. This is a particularly large issue for those deaf people who rely on sign language. With experience, knowledge of the rules of the game, knowledge of tennis etiquette, maturity, etc, on the part of both the deaf and hearing player these issues are less distracting. Nonetheless, they can be a source of distraction & frustration & discouragement, especially for beginning players.
More fundamentally, communication with coaches and other players and team/club members will greatly affect a a deaf individual's enthusiasm for tennis. Many deaf players complain that they do not get full benefit from coaching and are thus disadvantaged, and miss out on many of the social benefits of club involvement. Many typical situations are quite deaf unfriendly - noisy clubhouses, car trips to away matches, conversations between people more than a metre or so apart, announcements over PA systems, group situations, and more generally situations where a deaf person to is spoken to without the speaker first having gained their attention, and situations where people are trying to speak in hushed tones so as not to disturb matches in progress but inadvertently changing their lip patters which makes speech reading more difficult. Finally, people are often busy or preoccupied and even if they are deaf-aware can easily forget that they are communicating with a deaf person!
In summary, there are many potential sources of disadvantage. One one hand these can mostly be overcome... on the other hand effort is required to do so - and some would argue that it is this extra effort (and the willingness of the deaf person and their hearing counterparts to put in the extra effort) that is where the real disadvantage lies.
What are some good strategies for communicating with deaf people in a tennis environment?
- Get their attention before saying anything significant. Call their name, then maybe wave something in their field of vision, then if all else fails give them a tap on the shoulder. Do NOT throw tennis balls in their direction under any circumstances!!
- Ask the deaf person what you can do to better communicate with them. Deafness is a hugely personal experience, and it is difficult to be prescriptive about how best to communicate with deaf people. The best you can do is follow their lead, and be aware that there are many situational factors, so what works one day may not work the next!
- If a ball is out, put your finger in the air. If a close call is good, confirm with an outstretched arm, palm down.
- Take your time communicating the score during games and changing ends.
- Occasionally express some goodwill towards ensuring effective communication. Some deaf people feel that they are being a bit of a burden, and by reassuring them that they are welcome you will help them feel more positive about their tennis.
- If the deaf person you know uses sign language, ask them to show you a few useful signs, such as numbers for scoring.