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Deaf-friendly swim coaching

Swimming pools have poor acoustics because they’re in large, enclosed spaces with lots of hard surfaces. This means noises ‘bounce around’, making verbal communication difficult, especially for deaf children.

Deaf children who use hearing aids or cochlear implants can’t wear these during swim activities because they aren’t waterproof. This makes communication is even more challenging.

If a deaf child doesn't hear what you’re saying, they may miss out on important information, misunderstand or make mistakes. This can lead them to losing confidence and feeling frustrated or isolated.

There are lots of ways you can adapt swimming activities and the pool environment to make communication easier so deaf children can enjoy swimming.

Adapting the pool environment

  • Limit distractions by using quiet areas of the pool.
  • Make sure the pool is well lit. Light should shine on your face, not from behind you.
  • Turn off noisy water features such as jets, flumes and fountains.
  • Make sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency, and agree a visual signal.
  • If you use other technology (like a hearing loop), test it regularly to make sure it’s working.
  • Create visual signs for toilets, showers and changing rooms.
  • Have a board with teachers’ names and faces, and pool rules, on it.

Top tips for swim instructors


  • Ask the deaf child how they prefer to communicate both in and out of the pool.
  • Get the deaf child’s attention before speaking – try waving your hand, a flag or float.
  • Explain things poolside when children can wear their hearing technology.
  • Use gestures and demonstrate strokes and techniques.
  • Stay in one place and keep eye contact. Kneel or sit on the poolside if needed.
  • Use visual aids like directional lane boards, photos, pictures, videos or wipe-off boards.
  • Check if the deaf child has understood before moving on. Children may not feel comfortable to ask you to repeat yourself.
  • Repeat other swimmers’ contributions to the lesson or answers to questions, so the deaf child can lip read the answer.
  • Practice races with a touch start or strobe light before competitions.


  • Speak too slowly or shout! This distorts your lip patterns.
  • Move around the pool when you’re talking.
  • Cover your mouth or talk with your whistle in your mouth.
  • Talk and demonstrate at the same time.
  • Give up. Try explaining differently, write it down, use pictures or demonstrations.

Make sure all staff in your centre are practicing good deaf awareness. Even using basic sign language can have a huge impact on deaf children and their families.

Further information

Working with an interpreter or communication support worker

If you’re working with a sign language interpreter or other communication support worker, here are some tips:

  • Remember that the deaf child needs to see both you and the interpreter.
  • Keep eye contact with the child, even if the ‘voice’ is coming from the interpreter.
  • The deaf child can’t watch a stroke demonstration and the interpreter at the same time. Allow time for the interpreter to finish and the swimmer to reply.
  • Use your own communication skills to build rapport with the deaf child.
  • Share the session plan with the communication worker or interpreter in advance and explain swimming jargon.

Glue ear and swimming

A child with glue ear will normally be able to take part in swimming and water-based activities, even with grommets. However, their doctor may advise some of the following precautions:

  • Stay out of the water for three weeks post-operation.
  • Wear ear moulds.
  • Wear a neoprene headband over the ears.
  • Do not swim in lakes or non-chlorinated water (where the water may have a high bacteria count).
  • Avoid jumping, diving or swimming in deep water.

Not all of these precautions will be necessary for every child. It's best to speak to the child or parent directly.