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Saturday, July 28, 2018

HOLY COW: The US Deaf Women's National Team Summer Training Camp

Farm Olympic Podium Take 1.  Nothing's ever easy. Things aren't always perfect. Cameo:Monty
Impossible is the task of accurately depicting the training camp the U.S. Deaf Women's National Team (USDWNT) recently completed.  It's long, so wait until you are stuck in traffic, the laundry reads 1 minute to go but you know it will be an eternity, your kids won't get off video games, or you are sincerely interested in the goings on of this wonderful team.

A year ago, Laura Yon, former captain and member of US DWNT player pool, mentioned the idea of hosting a training camp on her family's dairy farm in Fremont, Michigan.  Assuming I'd blow off the idea she followed up with an email titled:  "10 Top Reasons Camp in Michigan will be the Best."  Amongst the reasons: free fields, free cars, etc.. as she knows we are on a slim budget.  She had me at Reason #4:  The team will be together on the farm and have a taste of farm life (AKA: HARD WORK).  She had me at "Hard Work"

In a country where youth sports have turned into big business & families are paying thousands of dollars to buy the right environment, we decided to dial it back. It doesn't cost anything to be better. In my opinion the 2 most important ingredients in improving as a team are 1) Hard Work and 2) Working Well Together.  Nope.. make that one thing:  WORKING HARD TOGETHER.  

Each of the 5 Days looked a little like this:
1)  3:00 AM - 7:00 AM Farm Chores.  Ranging from anything to sterilizing water buckets, hooking up cows for milking, feeding calves, helping with vaccinations, filling grain buckets, cleaning and more cleaning.  Lessons we picked up along the way: 
Be focused from the start & pay attention to instructions - It helps many people move smoothly as one. It can waste so much time and energy if all aren't dialed in when the first word is spoken.
Jump in and go for it without being afraid - IF you are listening... then go for it. Be the first follower.  It's annoying when everyone's waiting for someone to tackle the task after instructions were given; Step up. If you were not listening then quickly get up to speed by watching the first follower.  First followers are important.
Good leadership is key to success - Laura could clearly and quickly get us the information we needed, when we needed it to complete the task.   It wasn't fluffy. It wasn't so we could be her best friend at 3AM. It was perfect.  
Allie Galoob gets to work.
Do your job without comparing or concern about someone else's -  When a person wandered off to see if someone else had a 'more fun' job, the coordinated effort disappeared.  For example if there are 200 calves waiting to be fed and only 75 bottles; 50 full of milk, 25 clean bottles waiting to be filled, that leaves some gaps.  We swiftly pop the 50 bottles in the carriages that allow the calves to drink while filling the other 25 bottles.  By the time those 25 bottles are filled and placed into the next stalls (in order) the previous 50 bottles have been happily guzzled, removed and ready for cleaning and filling... perfect synchronicity.   In a matter of minutes, one barn has been given bottles, grain and water with a cart full of warm milk following our circus to head to the next barn with clean bottles already waiting to be filled.  And a few minutes longer... all bottles cleaned and drying, waiting for the 9:00 AM feeding.  UNLESS... one character wishes she was in the area with the calves vs. cleaning bottles or replacing nipples.  Or somebody doesn't have their heart in washing water buckets and is so slow, the person with the hose has to turn off the water waiting for Miss "Not That Into It" to finish her job. .. hypothetically speaking as that didn't happen on Laura's watch.  
Play to your strengths. -  We all have something to offer.  Some don't like the dirt and muck of the stalls. Others absolutely loved being near the animals.  One shined at sterilizing while others wore their cow shit and mud as a badge of honor.  
Choose your attitude - By the look on some faces, it was clear who was worried about the possibility of being tired and miserable due to the 3am wake up call. Others were so excited about the opportunity, being tired never crossed their minds.   I recently read something I firmly believe,  "Worrying is a form of negative visualization."  Players were worried about being tired before they were tired.  Their visualization of being tired aided their inner self-talk to ensure they would have a less than perfect day. Your brain doesn't know what is real and what is not when you are worrying about the future.  It doesn't differentiate and treats it all as real.  Planting the seed that it will happen in the way you think about it.  So... plan on having a 5 star day.. every day. 

Breakfast post chores.

2) Team Training: 7:30-9:00.  Before each training we go over the session with a hand out for players to have an understanding of what's in store.  This is important because many players wear hearing aids or cochlear implants (CI's) during the day time.  In international competition hearing devices are not allowed. The team typically trains without them to work on communication, reading body language as well as adapting to the problems that arise. side note: body language, good & bad, says more to a person than anything.
Some players know little or no sign language, can be at a disadvantage in training. This camp was different. This time I saw many players that didn't know a lick of sign language in the previous camp begin to communicate using signs they had learned over the past few months.  It helped the quality and the efficiency of practice.  Happy hearts recognized they cared enough about their teammates to make a difference; to build a bridge.  This wasn't just at the practice field, but everywhere.  Naturally, players gravitate to who they can communicate with the easiest. Therefore; players that are more oral tend to stick together while players who use sign language stay nearby.  Not this week.  There was much less separation as communication grew and relationships developed.  A new friend, Michelle, relayed to me that the the no.1 factor in people learning a new language doesn't comes down education, wealth, background or socio economic levels.  The number one factor in learning a new language comes down to willingness to take RISK:  The ability to not be afraid to go for it.  To blurt it out.  The feedback is positive even if you botch it.  Trying to communicate in another person's language shows that you value that person, you are listening; you care. You are willing to take the risk to be wrong and try to communicate vs. ignoring someone.  The response will be appreciation, thankfulness and kindness in return, giving the novice the courage to continue trying. With this barrier crumbling, and ASL isn't known, the real fun begins.  Pantomimes, gestures, eye contact, physical contact of pulling one way or another an a smile that says it all, "WE can do this."
During the week the team covered the following topics:  possession, finding space, pressing in the attacking half of the field and runs in the box. Defending is an every day thing.. that goes along with the theme of WORKING HARD TOGETHER.
Mia White tells Nicole Nunez she can turn through visual cues.

Lessons picked up at training: 
RISK = REWARD. Taking risks in the front half of the field and working hard to get by defenders is worth it.  Taking a risk to communicate in a language you are not comfortable with is worth it.  
We can be tired AND great. With double days on a schedule that began at 3am, it was assumed that the quality of training would take a back seat while Team Building went to the top.  This was far from true.  While exhausted minds and bodies hit the field, the focus on the game plan & the work ethic to match reached its target.  The quality of soccer was as good as I can remember.  I am hopeful each player will pull from this memory bank to the next time they are jet lagged, over tired and have no gas in the tank,  that they know they can rally, no need to cash it in.  It may be more difficult, but you can find your best if it is what you expect.  Expect Greatness. Choose Greatness. Tired is often a byproduct of being great.  I know that sleep is key to sustained success, but on the off chance you have to pull an all nighter to get the A, finish a job, help a friend... do it.  You will survive. You may even thrive.
Joy Fawcett & Beth Barbiers herding the kids into action.
Being vulnerable, taking advice and turning it into action pays off: Nobody loves to meet with the coach to listen to feedback.  It's uncomfortable, until you get used to it.  There are 2 ways to receive the information: 1: Deflect " I don't have time,  It's hard because I have school.... It's hard because I'm outa school,  My other coach told me... I'm a forward on my club team... blah, blah, blah."  2. Appreciate the attention and advice, "Thank you, let me go home and apply it and ask questions in the process."  For the most part, the players take to heart the advice; but some are more willing to do all they can to improve.  Since the last camp one player in particular worked on everything we asked... and more. She worked on soccer specific fitness,  joined a few teams, made sure she gets time in the position we have asked her to play, is learning sign language, individually works on striking a long ball and watches high level soccer to continue her tactical awareness.  She was the most improved at camp.  It wasn't through resting her head on a pillow and dreaming about it. It was focused action.

Practice should be viewed as one's individual test to see what you worked on while away from the team.  It should be a time where you get to show off in front of your teammates the work you have put in.  The game is the team's test to see how well you work together. 

LUNCH on FARM:  Leftovers from last nights dinner, and sandwich fixins on the farm.  Fend for yourself.

1:00-4:00  TEAM ACTIVITY.  This activity each day was one of the following:
Syd Andrews enjoys a rare opportunity to take down her coach.
Lexie and Ani head to teammate for congratulatory high 5.
Free 3 hour clinic for 5-14 year olds from the Fremont community.  Total of approx. 60 kids attended the clinic.  As a thank you for the use of the fields/equipment for the week the USDWNT hosted a clinic for boys and girls elementary - high school age.  USDWNT tradition is to give back to the community that graciously hosts.  Fremont Middle School allowed us full use of fields and equipment 24/7 while we were at no cost.  The joy they have in sharing this experience with other deaf players is palpable. You can see how much they love  I've been told by more than a few players, this space is one of the few they feel at home.
I've learned a lot about the divide in the deaf world between people who use sign language and those that use hearing devices.  A good article was passed along to me from a friend that touches upon this.
For those interested: Article Here:

For those that want to see how it CAN work, watch the team in action.  It it is about building relationships and putting yourself in someone else's shoes.  This team works to close the gap to understand each other and enjoys each other's uniqueness along with the challenges.  We all should take a page out of their book.  I realize it's my opinion and I am not deaf;  an outsider looking in. You have to watch and experience this team before you can come back at me with yours. :) I'm ready.
Sophie Post and Nicole Nunez take a tumble

Giving back is necessary & feels awesome.  "The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves." - Helen Keller.

You get out of life what you put into it.  The more fun, you bring to the table, the more fun it becomes. The more work you put into the task, the better it becomes.  It's not rocket science.

It's really not hard to communicate with the deaf. Give it a try.

This smile needs no interpreter.  

Hauling / Stacking 500+bales of straw into the barn as quickly AND neatly as possible.  Winner gets to be the best.   Two groups formed, the job explained, a truck, hay elevator and tractor rolled in and it was game on. Each group with a slightly different set of circumstances took to the task;.. a stack may be higher, an obstacle in the way, some bales weren't uniform in shape, etc.

Silvya, Peyton & Faith   (before we were aware Silvya has a sever hay allergy.)
Deal with it. It's life and no one said it would be fair.  When the truck appeared overflowing with straw, silence fell over the group.  Those that didn't mind heights and had experience with Tetris headed for the hay loft.  In the words of Laura, "They nailed it."

Learn from others:  The 2nd group watched with the advantage of not making the same mistakes as the first.  This is critical in teamwork and improvement.  The combined groups ended up doing more than anticipated due to the efficiency in learning from mistakes.  Toughness is a key ingredient in a good life.  Little did we know one of the goalkeepers, Silvya, is allergic to hay/straw.... until her body started to swell.  Immediately she was hosed off and popped some Benadryl and asked to chill out for the remainder of the day.  But... But.... the competition was still going on. Up she bolted in game-like fashion ready to make the 2nd save and trotted with longer sleeves, gloves and every item covering her body to help her team finish the competition.  Sport = Life.  :)

We (as a team, family, organization, community, country, world) are better together than apart.  The amount of work that was accomplished  took less time, was easier and more fun together.
Load #1 Ready for Stacking

Farm Olympics
- In true National Team fashion,  Laura and her sister Erin manufactured the best relay race ever! Race consisted of moving bales, wheelbarrows, milking a nippled bottle, hauling grain, filling water buckets and keeping 2 eggs safe while sprinting down the field all the while dodging a basset hound puppy and toddler. It was awesome!

The taunting, screaming, cheering, succeeding, failing, teamwork and laughing inspired every element worthy of the Olympics.  LESSON:  Don't be afraid to conquer your fears and tackle weaknesses.    Meet Annie Kolb.
Mia Marin ready to assist Annie. 

From the second she saw the leg of the race where one has to lift 2 bales up and over a fence, run 15 meters and stack them, was the moment the doubt knocked on her door.  Annie is one of the younger members of the player pool with a string bean stature.   She fights for every ball on the field and doesn't back down, but often she is discarded to the ground.  It doesn't stop her.  Realizing if she keeps at it, the strength will come eventually.  She doesn't want to let her teammates down, puts on her game face and hopes she does not have to be the first one to ask for help.

Nailed it.  String beans and all. 
Supporting her teammates as they navigated the course, she steps aside to find her inner strength before her turn is up.   Later that night around the dinner table she admitted she didn't think she'd pull it off.  Not everyone will find success the 1st or 2nd time they try.  Some people may never reach their goal... but so many good things come your way when you work for it. Don't save a space for fear, use all the space for your best effort.


Mia, Casey, Annie, Paige, Elysia Nick, Ben are ready for Laura to award the "medals" 

Gold, Silver and Bronze

River Rafting.  A nice reprieve from the farm and playing field.  24 tubes, a couple of kayaks, 2 hours down a river in the cool water and warm sunshine.  With our team NOTHING ever goes as planned.  Schedule changes, hay allergies, an empty gas tank, a late arrival on a plane, miscommunication, a 3am 1.7 mile drive to farm that collided with a deer, etc. "Go with the flow," is a strength of this team. Adapting is a skill I've learned with this team.  For a couple of hours each player was able to go with the flow, not fight the current and enjoy the ride.  Sometimes, you just need to breathe
Newly elected USDSA President, Suzanne Anderson, keeps a watchful eye on the crew.

5:30-6:30 DINNER on the FARM:  BBQ, Burgers, Tacos, Pizza.  Beef and Veggies farm fresh.

7:00-8:30 TRAINING:  3-4 more camps until 2020 Deaf World Championship and lost of work to be done.
McCall Madriago & Mia White facing aerial presence of Ani Khachadourian

Holly Hunter, Beth Barbiers make life difficult for Sophie Post 
 Thank you Laura, Erin, and their families for loaning us your homes, cars, children, time and space for the USDWNT to work hard together.

The relationships that grew, the toughness that was realized, the lessons learned will help each of us on our quest for another gold.  

10:30 PM Lights out if you are awake enough to reach for the switch.

A newfound respect for each other and farmers.  Holy Cow... seriously.  No easy day. 

Hats off to those that made it to the end of this post.  We are looking to grow our fan base, so if you want to keep it short and simple, follow along on Twitter: or Instagram

Quotes of camp:  "I left my ears in the car."  "Did you say Pro Team? or protein?"  "She can't hear you. We are deaf." "You have to squeeze the nipple from the top down." A boy at the clinic:  "My aunt is a nurse and she used to help me with my 'mindgrains'"   "I think Silvya might be allergic..."

Farm Olympic Podium Take 2:  Better Together

An accurate depiction of how we roll. 

Until we meet again.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Training Camp with US Deaf National Team in Austin was a Home Run!

US Deaf Women's National Team Training

The US Deaf Women's National Team (USDWNT) has 2 training camps per year totaling 8 days.  That is all.  Thankfully, the team cherishes every second, cramming as much as we can in a few days; and this camp was no different.  The goals of each training camp are:

1.  Increase player pool:Invite, embrace and cultivate rookies to the team. 

2.  Continue to improve as a team to win a 3rd Deaf World Championship.

3.  Seek opportunities to be a positive member of the community where camp is held.

1: Increase Player Pool to ensure success in the future.   ✔

We welcomed 3 new players this camp; Sophie, Ashley H. and Silvya.  Up to now, the team has 5 gold medal.  (3 Deaflympics, 2 World Championships) and has not lost a game in international competition.   The biggest reason behind the success is the leadership that is driven by the players.  
Improving with each camp is important, but even more critical is allowing space for the rookies to take the reins and learn how to drive.  The vets on the team welcome rookies with respect and patience.  With ages ranging from 13 - 40-ish :) it's a unique situation.    WE asked a couple younger players (not to be named 👀) to pass out Chick-fil-A that had been donated & pre-ordered.  Sounds simple enough.  One would have thought they were trying to put a woman on Mars.
Chick-fil-A on Mars

Realizing for the first time what a hassle some of these things are because they had always been on the receiving end.  A team of leaders is the ultimate goal.

First camps for the newbies can be intimidating.  Sophie has hearing aids that she can't wear during training to abide by the international rules.  She has taken them out occasionally while playing on her club team when the weather doesn't cooperate.  When I asked her how she liked playing without her aids, she replied, "At first its tough, but I like it because I can't hear the coaches." 😊   She's figured it out at a young age... coaching is overrated.  
Sophie's eyes says it all.  Excited and Ready

Ashley and Silvya both fluent in ASL but not fluent in  Amy Sign Language.  A work in progress, Joy & I are far from being able to explain what we see and how to adjust. Or what we saw that caused us to clap gregariously.  With Amanda (interpreter) in tow it's a combo of ASL, charades, shouting and  chasing players and tugging on  players to move them into more adequate positions.  The veterans are used to "The Show" & have remarkable patience.  The newer players, afraid to make eye contact for fear I will try to coach them.  Eventually they are reminded that this is a National Team and improving is mandatory and they dive in and make their best attempt.  That's what we are all doing.  Being uncomfortable and vulnerable soon becomes the norm. 

The contrast from the 1st to 2nd camp is extreme.  Middle school aged first-timers are uncertain of the expectations; intimidated by vets that have gold upon gold and have graduated from college and beyond.   Those same players at the next camp cannot wait to spill onto the field and be together regardless of any talent disparity.  Any chance to re-unite with other deaf players and play soccer seems to be the priority.  Age, race & skill level seems to go unnoticed.  Without a word or a sign, the shared experience of what these players have in common seems to allow for a memorable experience.

Tactically planned, our first meal was at Crepe Crazy.  A delicious spot owned and operated by deaf business entrepreneurs.  The place is always packed but the owners saved us a spot and donate 15% back to our team.  
Mia gets the skinny from Crepe Crazy employee: 

Mia inquires and finds out, "....about 15 years ago my husband, who is also deaf, accepted a job here, so my family, my daughter & son, moved here, well not HERE, but...."   Needed to throw that in there as an ASL class I am in just learned the signs for family members. 

2: Continue to improve as a team to win a 3rd Deaf World Championship. ✔✔ 

A steady stream of new players and camps 6 months apart, makes it difficult to continue from where we left off.   However, this camp had to be one of the best in terms of soccer quality.  The team improved even with throwing in some new sessions and concepts.  Due to communication barriers, a new drill can be arduous.  This time when ears weren't on and signs went askew, players assessed, stayed focused and pushed through the pantomime of the session.  The focus was sharp.  Hallelujah!
(For those that are new to this team.  In accordance with international competition; all hearing devices must be removed for games; and that is how the team trains.  Therefore, some players that wear hearing aids or cochlear implants and have not learned ASL struggle to communicate with those that use ASL only. check earlier posts if ya' want to know all the scoop; its' incredible)
Local player, Faith Wylie and Lexie Cano get on the same page.

Another key factor in a successful camp was the help.  Katey Fawcett & Michael Harris drove from Oklahoma to pitch in once again.  They trained the keepers, played in, kept score,  made excellent equipment managers and kept track of all the equipment the University of Texas was kind to lend.
Gracie (Left) and Casey (Right) in hot pursuit of Dane (Center) 

Thanks to Andy McClelland, Graham Smurthwaite and FC Westlake for giving up rare free time to help us with donated facilities & organizing a scrimmage under the lights.  A team full of quality respectful players is always great competition gives us a good indication of what to work on next.

As much as I  hate to admit it, parents are also a big key to success, donating time, chauffeuring, and stepping in when needed.  I am the idiot that says, "Parents, it's best if you keep your distance and help the players bond, learn, deal with the team and organize themselves." Then... a mere hour later I am frantically texting, "Ummm, a car broke down, someone's flight is late, So and So needs new cleats..... I need your help!" Parents, ... can't live with 'em, can't leave 'em on a curb. 

Abby Smith US National Team Pool GK and NWSL Goalkeeper came out New Year's Eve day in sub zero temperatures and put our GK's through their paces.  It made my heart happy to see Abby when  raise her goalkeeper glove high and offer help. Both Janet and I had the pleasure of working with her on the U20 National Team when she was a teenager.  

Janet Rayfield also made a guest appearance on 2 occasions.  Not dressed for the freezing temperatures, she pulled her cowl neck over her face so her eyes were the only thing peeking out from the warmth.   As players piled out of the overcrowded van like a clown car, she nodded enthusiastically and said "Hi!, How's it going?" greeting each player.  The only thing the players could see were animated eye.  They kept their distance.  It didn't take long for the light bulb to turn on and Janet to jerk her cowl neck below her chin. Facial expressions are vital.  All of a sudden the joyful "welcome" got the response it deserved;  a returned grin and confident high 5 as they entered the field.    

Janet watched with a trained eye; impressed with the level and enamored be re-thinking the game from a deaf perspective.    How do you stop a practice to give helpful input?  How do you tell someone they have a player on their back?  How do you get a concept to the team as efficiently as possible? 

Janet's sound advice for ALL players at every level

3.  Seek opportunities to be a positive member of the community.✔✔✔

Connecting with the soccer and deaf community wherever we land is a highlight of camp.  Normally we visit a school and show our medals and run a clinic for the kids, but the Texas School for the Deaf was closed for the holidays.  This time, one special girl named Malia managed to fly from Boston to meet the team.  Malia is 9 and a soccer nut.  When she was 2 she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.  As a result of treatment, Malia lost much of her hearing and now wears hearing aids.  She wears hearing aids after some arguing, coercing and bribing from her folks.  She didn't like how they looked or felt & didn't want kids staring at her at school even if it was out of pure curiosity.  Her dad learned of the team & flew out to Austin with Malia to meet the team.   Malia met successful, confident players that served us the ultimate role models.  We had told the team she would be our honorary captain for the week and they were pumped to have her lead the team.  

When we first met she and her dad in the hotel lobby, you could tell she was a player.  Expectedly shy with 22 faces welcoming her, it was difficult to get that first grin.  But when she stepped on the soccer field things changed.  Running, smiling, sprinting to get every stray ball, jumping into a warm up game or simply watching.

Day ONE Malia wore her hair down, efficiently covering her hearing aids.  Day TWO: Malia's hairstyle was the highest, tightest pony tail I had ever seen.  Look at me!  I am just like you and it's awesome! 

By the end of camp Malia had touched everyone's hearts with her combo of courage, love of soccer and being a really great girl.  An unspoken pact formed with the group.  A hope that someday Malia finds herself wearing a similar red white and blue jersey. 
Ice Cream Stop with Malia:  Meghan Maiwald, Kate Ward, Sydney Andrews, Joy Fawcett 

Tough to find the perfect New Year's Eve setting with a group of 28 raging in age from 9 to 52. :) Somehow the Sparkling Cider,  Olive Garden Take Out and cupcakes, hide and seek with Malia in the lobby of our 2.5 star hotel completed 2017 perfectly.  A Home Run on all accounts.

Next camp.  This summer.  When? Where? TBA, but possibly on a Dairy Farm, where the accommodations include some Elbow Greece and Work Ethic 101 to the tune of a 4:30 am wake up calls to caring for calves, cooking cleaning and soccer.  Sport is life. :) Building leaders one chore at a time.
If we pull it off, one can only imagine what we are going to "step into" on this adventure!

Thanks to all who donated time, miles, money, points, energy to make this camp a great experience and affordable for the players.

If you would like to learn more about the team, please go to the following links.  Most of the newer players that found out about the team is due to social media outreach.

Instagram: usadeafwnt  

Signing in GK gloves... not the best idea.