An interview with James Galt, the FA and McDonalds National Volunteer of the Year 2019

James Galt, 19, was recently awarded the title of National Volunteer of the Year by the Football Association and McDonalds. James, from Lancashire, was born profoundly deaf, but has turned his passion and enthusiasm for sport into a career. Alongside his job at an activity centre, James volunteers as a football coach at his old primary school and supports the North West Disability Futsal Hub. James’ coaching skills and empathy for the students were noticed by parents on the sidelines, who nominated him for the prestigious FA and McDonald’s grassroots football award. He was thrilled to find out that he had won the national title. 

We caught up with James to find out more about his incredible achievement.

1.       Congratulations on winning the award! How does it feel to be honoured for your work as a deaf football coach?

It feels amazing to have won the award! I found out from my mum as she took the call from the FA in London to say that not only had I won the local award, but also the national award as well. I was up against 43 other nominees and I was the overall winner. Mum explained that the panel of judges included the likes of Sir Geoff Hurst and Stephanie Moore. It was a real honour to be selected and exciting, if a little nerve-wracking, heading to London for the award ceremony. 

2.       Tell us how/why you got into deaf football coaching?

I’d always enjoyed sport, but I didn’t start playing football until I was 12 as some coaches struggled to communicate with me. My mum ran a deaf family group, which involved playing football, and I loved it. I attended some disability football sessions ran by the FA, and I started playing futsal – a five-a-side version of football which is played with a heavier ball – which I thoroughly enjoyed. At futsal, BSL support was provided and I made new friends. It showed me how great deaf coaching could be. When I was 16, although I was too old to play at the FA disability hub, the coaches let me come back to help them – and this was my first venture into coaching.

I enjoyed coaching so much that after my GCSEs, I started studying a diploma in football studies at Myerscough College and obtained coaching qualifications as part of that. I approached my old primary school to run some sessions and the coaching went from there. I also support the coaches at a local deaf school. I am now working at an activity centre which I love, but my ultimate aim is to become a full-time coach.

3.       Are there any barriers you had to overcome in your coaching career?

I find it can be more difficult communicating with a player I haven’t worked with before. Coaching players you have developed a rapport with is easier, as you understand each other. You know how to get the best out of them, and you know their personalities too. I initially found communicating a challenge when I began to coach at my old primary school. When I met new players, it was difficult to communicate to understand their footballing knowledge and skill.

I also find coaching in the rain a challenge. I’m lucky as nearly all my sessions are indoors, but when I was at college most of the sessions were outside. The rain makes it more difficult as I have to remove my hearing aid device, cover my implant or rely solely on the BSL support. I have found the best solution for coaching in the rain is an ‘aqua pack’, which covers my implant in the rain and means I can hear the players and other coaches.

4.       Do you believe your hearing loss has given you any advantages in progressing in coaching?

I don’t believe my deafness has given me any particular advantages in coaching, as communicating has been difficult at times. However, I would say that having a disability can enable you to access opportunities in the sports you are interested in pursuing. There are specialist football and futsal teams for all different disabilities and great opportunities for people to access national pathways for sport.

5.       Do you find BSL an advantage in football and sports in general?

Using BSL in football means the coaches do not have to shout across the pitch at you. Even hearing players may not always hear instructions so signing can help to communicate things. However, working at the disability hub, some players suffer from visual impairments, which means that they also require speech as well as signs. 

As a coach, you learn that visual coaching works well with deaf players, so you ensure that there is a visual demonstration alongside verbal communications (and/or BSL), so everyone understands what has been said.

6.       How has becoming involved in coaching benefited you as a person? Has it increased your confidence?

Coaching has enabled me to continue to play football, which I love. I have also gained more confidence outside of the sport. As a coach, I build relationships with the new people I meet, all the time. Gaining the confidence to build a rapport with new people, means I can communicate better with them, since I struggle to talk with people I don’t know well. Having the confidence to speak to new people has helped me both with coaching and life in general.

7.       Tell us more about your experiences with the volunteer deaf community – how supportive have they been?

I have made great friendships through my role as a volunteer. At the futsal hub for example, I offer BSL support and I worked with a goalkeeper who uses BSL. As I was able to communicate what the coaches wanted to him, we got on well and socialised between training.

As well as my voluntary work as a football coach, I have also helped other coaches in the community. For example, I went along with a coach to help him communicate with the students at a deaf school. I gave him pointers on using bibs and the floor as a vibration to alert so the players can feel it or hear a low frequency noise, rather than blowing a whistle.

My confidence has improved dramatically over the years. I’ve been helping with the ear foundation in Nottingham during their residential weeks, and it’s great to meet people from different ages and countries across Europe. Everyone gets to know each other and just has fun.

8.       What advice would you give to someone with a hearing loss who is interested volunteering opportunities?

Give yourself time. I think it helps to start small, doing something you enjoy or know well, with people you know, so that you can build up your confidence from there. That’s what I did, and it’s still the approach I take now.

Check out our blog written by England Deaf Rugby Union player Beth Weller.

"Using BSL in football means the coaches do not have to shout across the pitch at you. Even hearing players may not always hear instructions so signing can help to communicate things."