2016 in Review:

Had the pleasure to catch up with some players and Coach Griffin after their World Cup victory.  Here is my piece that ran for Excelle Sports.

For U.S. Deaf Women’s National Soccer Team, pitch presents no limitations

On July 2nd, the United States Deaf Women’s National Team (DWNT) won its 29th consecutive match, becoming the Deaf World Cup champions for the second time.  Yet, most soccer fans haven’t heard of the team coached by World Cup winners Amy Griffin and Joy Fawcett. Excelle Sports caught up with Coach Griffin, keeper Meghan Maiwald and Casey King about the 2016 World Cup and the DWNT moving forward.

The United States earned a 3-0 victory over Russia to win the third Deaf World Cup (the DWNT did not compete in the first Deaf World Cup in 2008).  The USDWNT maintained their perfect record, improving to 29-0, with 147 goals, and only 10 goals against.  What is remarkable is that the DWNT only had eight days to prepare.  The eight days, spread across two training sessions, was not only the sum of preparation for the 2016 Deaf World Cup, it was the first time the team has been together in the last three years (since the 2013 Deaflympics).

[More from Excelle: Emily Cressy and Casey King help USA Deaf WNT win World Cup title]

“We were still working on team chemistry and bonding in the tournament because we only had a total of eight days together as a team,” said Maiwald, who also serves as the communication contact for the team.“Yes, we won by multiple goals all tournament long, but this was not our best soccer. We can be so much more dangerous if we had more training time together.”

At 26, Maiwald is a veteran on the team in age an experience.  She has played semi-pro soccer, college soccer and competed in her second Deaf World Cup this summer.  Maiwald was also on the 2013 Deaflympics gold medal winning team.  The US Deaf Soccer team has a small talent pool made up of players that hear about the team through their personal networks.  There are no age limitations to competing for US Deaf Soccer. “I attended my first camp in 2006 at 15 years old,”  shared Meghan via e-mail, “Kevin McCartney, one of my former club soccer coach from Los Gatos United Lock came to practice one day with a brief one paragraph article that the USDWNT was holding tryouts for a upcoming training camp.”

Although Meghan was 15 for her first DWNT camp, she didn’t compete with the team until 2012, “I had to choose between sitting out my sophomore year or go to the (2009) Deaflympics. SBCC is a community college, and at that time I was being recruited by numerous Division I schools. It was a very tough and heartbreaking decision because I left the team and the roster size was already very small.”  However, Maiwald decided to see her college career through, never knowing if she would be invited back.  Three championships later, Maiwald is a veteran on the young 2016 team.

Youth Movement

One of those younger players is Casey King from Bexley, Ohio.  Unlike Maiwald, King grew up knowing about the DWNT at a young age, “Ironically, my friend’s father found out about Felicia (former USDWNT, collegiate player at Purdue, and professional soccer player in Europe),” shared Casey.  King’s father encouraged her to reach out to Felicia via e-mail, “the old fashioned way” when she was ten years old.  In 2012, Casey watched the DWNT practice, “I remember that I told my dad I would play for them one day. Four years later it actually happened.”

Casey King shakes a Russian defender in the 2016 Deaf World Cup final in Italy.                Photo Courtesy of J. Thomas King

At 16 years old, the DWNT forward scored a brace in the World Cup final, “I had struggled getting the ball in the net throughout the tournament, but in the championship game, I knew I had to put the ball in the net.”  That is precisely what King did, twice, “there is still nothing like scoring. Honestly I wish I could rewind to those moments of excellence.”

Funding the Dream

Once players were selected and methods of communication were established, the team had to raise money to travel to Italy to compete. The US Deaf national Team is not supported by the Unites States Soccer Federation (USSF) or the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).  Players often must raise $5,000 each to be able to participate in competitions.  Maiwald noted that the DWNT has always had a strong and influential – if not quite large – support system, “The majority of board members for USA Deaf Soccer Association are current players. It helps having Amy Griffin and Joy Fawcett as our coaches and advocates.” Fawcett and Griffin are not the only former senior women’s team advocates.

Prior to the 2012 Deaf World Cup, Maiwald and her teammates found themselves without uniforms, “Days before we were supposed to fly out, a company that promised us uniforms dropped out in the very last minute.”  In her frustration, Meghan reached out to a friend, “At that time, I was teammates with Brandi Chastain for the California Storm of the WPSL.  After a text describing the situation, Chastain decided to get involved, “She was very upset, and basically said, let me and Julie Foudy take care of this. Within 24 hours, we had a new set of uniforms and raised an additional $10,000 on social media.”

Joy Fawcett and players hard at work making and modeling shirts from the team ETSY store.  Credit: US Deaf Women’s National Team 

For the 2016 World Cup, the DWNT took to Twitter and ETSY to raise the money needed to compete. The DWNT devised a plan to get other national team members and NWSL teams involved.  “(The DWNT) really don’t want to ask for a free ticket to the World Cup.  I think they have some enjoyment in working for it. I think a lot of them feel like you get out of life what you put into it,” shared Griffin.  Players and trainers managed the social media campaign, the ETSY account, and the shipping of the DWNT merchandise.  The team was ecstatic as the orders, donations and tweets of support came in. “What I really didn’t expect was how much joy it gave our players … to check social media,” said Griffin.  During the tournament, the players would gather round the one or two phones with international service and check tweets to the team account, “I think they felt valued,” said coach Griffin, “you would hear them sign, or say, ‘Play it again! Play it again!’”

Building a Winning Team

It was what happened off the pitch that united the team most effectively.  In the case of the DWNT, social media was less or a distraction and more of a lifeline.  In fact, Griffin felt the coordination of the social media campaign actually helped prepare the team to compete together, “whether they knew it or not, they were forming a team.  They were forming team chemistry and they were forming a bond, so that when they all met at the airport … it felt like we’d been together much more than eight days.”  She also added that, knowing there were people actually watching (or at least with knowledge of) the team made the players want to perform at their best.  King echoed this when she spoke about scoring in the final, “The feeling was awesome because I knew that the fans were cheering for us, the team and me, at that moment.”

When Coach Griffin is recruiting, she must find players that are a citizens of the United States with the average hearing loss of 55 decibels or more in the best ear.  Other than that, Griffin is able to recruit freely.  However, Griffin finds it difficult to finds ways to push her team to be better with limited competition for roster spots.  The current player database limited, Griffin hopes to gain more exposure and find even more talent to compete.

In addition to a limited talent pool and limited practice time, Coach Griffin had to learn how to communicate with her team, “Some players sign, some players lip read, some speak, and very few do all of the above.  So, to have such limited training was frustrating.”  However, having to learn one effective method to reach all players helped Griffin keep her messages straight to the point, “(I learned) to be clear and concise and stick to the game plan, and not go off on too many tangents, like coaches have a bad habit of doing.”

Next Stop: Deaflympics 2017

When thinking about the future of the team leading into the Deaflympics in Turkey next year, everyone agreed that more support will be key. “We have really built a strong support base through the efforts of our coaches and families,” wrote King.  Meghan added, “It was disappointing to see only six women teams participating in the (World Cup) tournament.”

Maiwald believes that continuing to push for more is the only way to see the Deaf World Cup and other tournaments grow, “We’ve been very fortunate and thankful with the support we’ve received so far. It wouldn’t be right if we all sit back, and say this is good enough. We always want more and better, to continue the growth of Deaf soccer internationally.”

Although one of the younger players, King knows that she and her teammates are worthy of continued support.  When given the opportunity to add a final comment, Casey added, “We have really built a strong support base through the efforts of our coaches and families.  We would love to get solid financial support so that everyone involved can concentrate even harder on training.  We are so appreciative of any and all financial assistance.  We believe our hard work speaks for itself.”

From a coaching perspective, Griffin wants more competition for roster spots, “Nothing’s going to make (the team) better than a little competition. Right now, our player pool is so small, we don’t push (competition) enough. Again, you get what you put into it, and I think if the fight were a little bit harder, it would raise their game.”  Griffin also noted that engaging with other deaf athletes and deaf youth would be a great opportunity for her team to be role models.  She’s already seen it happen.

Coach Griffin shared with us that, on her way home from Italy, Casey was approached in the airport by a woman asking if she was on the US Deaf Women’s National Team.  The woman noticed the logo on Casey’s shirt, she has a deaf niece in Ohio who wants to play soccer.  At 16, Casey can now be on the receiving end of the e-mail she sent six years ago.  That is, if e-mailing is not too old school for her these days.

For more information about US Deaf Soccer can be found on the program website.  You can also follow the DWNT on Twitter, @ USDeaf_WNT

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