A Deeper Look At What This Match Meant to Both Sides
Published Aug 4, 2021
Photo Credits - Utah Red Devils Media


For as long as the beautiful game has been played, coaches have been loudly imploring players to communicate with each other on the field.

Turn! Time! Man on! Communicate!

The players and coaches of the U.S. Deaf Women’s National Team do not have the luxury of verbal communication during a match most take for granted. What would transpire if the two worlds collided on the field?

Last Wednesday, on July 28, the Utah Red Devils were able to experience this opportunity as they joined the USDWNT on the field in an exhibition match held at the University of Utah.

I was absolutely blown away how well they [USDWNT] were able to communicate on the field non-verbally,” Dennis Burrows Red Devils head coach said. “The awareness these players have on the field is just incredible. I’ve never really seen anything like that.”

For the players on the USDWNT playing without verbal communication is just another part of the game.

It’s just a different way of playing,” Katy Ward USDWNT co-captain said.

Ward played high-level youth soccer growing up in Atlanta, and collegiately at Appalachian State University. She is now an assistant coach of the women’s soccer team at the University of Texas at El Paso and sits on the U.S. Deaf Soccer board of directors as vice president of women’s soccer.

No one on the field can hear really anything. They make it as level for everyone,” Ward said. “You have to be a lot more visually aware of what is going on around you. You can’t rely on people telling you what to do.”

Ward, a central midfielder, has cochlear implants that enable her to hear but when she plays with the USDWNT she is, as are all players, required to remove all hearing devices and undergoes hearing testing before the start of competition.

For head coach Amy Griffin and assistant Joy Fawcett, both iconic players for the U.S. Women’s National Team and accomplished coaches at the highest levels of women’s soccer, coaching deaf players required them to re-examine their approach to coaching.


At practice, you can’t just yell across the field and tell someone to do something,” Griffin said. “Not everyone communicates the same way. Some sign. Some read lips. Some are verbal. Stopping a drill to go over a certain point is a little more involved.


When Griffin was first approached about coaching the team in 2015, she had only a rudimentary knowledge of American Sign language after learning from a book while traveling to away matches so she could communicate with a deaf family member.

Griffin has since become more proficient, but not nearly enough in her estimation to fully convey head-of-the-moment instruction forcing them to rely on volunteer interpreters. Collectively they have developed soccer-specific signs that would not necessarily translate beyond the field and must be taught to each new player that joins the team.


It was so different not hearing the other team talking, not hear the opposing coach yelling at players, telling them what to do,” Burrows said. “It’s completely different from what we are used to. I am truly in awe of how well they play.”


The friendly versus the Red Devils was the USDWNT’s first test as they begin preparations for the 2022 Deaflympics in Caxias do Sul, Brazil next May – where the USDWNT look to win a fourth gold medal.

Since the program began in 1999, they have yet to lose a match on the international stage – winning Deaflympics gold in 2005, 2009, and 2013, and the Women’s Deaf World Cup in 2012 and 2016. The team was forced to sit out the 2017 Deaflympics in Samsun, Turkey due to unaffordable team security costs in the politically unstable country.

This camp was the first opportunity for the coaching staff to assess the eligible player pool in more than two years. Twenty-nine players paid their own way to Salt Lake City for the five-day camp at the University of Utah—the largest turnout in the history of the program.

As a result of this impressive showing, Griffin was able to field two equal squads versus a full-strength Red Devils squad who just wrapped up its 2021 WPSL season.


The Red Devils put us under a lot of pressure,” Griffin said. “We told our girls going in that the result of this game did not matter. The whole point of the game was to get a look at everyone in game situations so we could figure how and where everyone fits into the team.


Despite the historic turnout for Griffin, a handful of potential players were not able to attend the camp – mainly due to financial limitations. These constraints will likely be present ahead of the Deaflympics next spring as players are responsible for paying their own way with their program not being funded.


Not everyone who could go will be able to afford it, the girls do everything they can to raise funds,” Griffin said. “They sell t-shirts and get people to sponsor them. They sleep four to a room and take public transportation to games to keep costs down.”

Griffin estimates it will cost each player about $5,000 to represent their country in Brazil. Corporate funding is being sought to help defray the costs of the players, as well as increase the opportunity for the players to train together before competitions.

For Ward, whose playing career with the USDWNT will wind down after the 2022 Deaflympics, the opportunity to attend this camp and compete against the Red Devils was just good to be out playing with her teammates again.


Playing on this team, with this group of girls, is the most special thing in the world. Like most of these girls, I grew up in the hearing world [and] the first time I was around people who looked like me, who had the same experiences as me, was when I started playing for this team,” Ward said.


Like Ward, this team creates a first-time opportunity for most players to experience an environment with others who are deaf or hearing impaired and this doesn’t stop at the soccer field. The team works in local deaf communities as much as possible to put on clinics for the deaf youth to interact with the USDWNT.


Kids come to these clinics and interact with the team and see that there are people like them doing incredible things,” Griffin said. “For some of them, it is the first time they are around someone else who is deaf. Being part of that makes it all worth it.”


In Ward’s time as a USDWNT player, she has had roles models, who’s experienced what she has, to look up to and show her that even she can be successful.

As a veteran player and a co-captain, that is the kind of culture I want to have here, and I want to continue to build,” Ward said. “It’s not just about winning on the field. It’s about deaf kids and kids with disabilities everywhere. There are not enough role models like that in the world.”


The importance and inspiration of the USDWNT were not lost on the Red Devil players either. After the match, Red Devils players lingered on the field taking pictures and socializing with the USWDNT players. One Red Devils player brought a national team jersey and had their entire team sign it as a memento of the match.


Everyone wanted to play in this game, more than our league games even,” Burrows said. “Playing in it meant a lot to our team. It is a game they will always remember.”


Dennis Burrows and two of his players along with Amy Griffin and Joy Fawcett appeared on the WPSL Her Game Podcast ahead of this friendly. Click to Listen now and hear more about the Utah Red Devils and U.S. Deaf Women’s National Team.  Or watch video version here.


For sponsorship information of the USDWNT please contact


  Author:  Andrew Mosier,  @AndrewMosier6  (Twitter)
  WPSL Contributor - West Region