Pete Nowakowski knows as well as anyone how important communication is in football.
Working as an assistant to James Lambert in Australia’s Deaf Football team – which qualified for the World Championships in Korea – part of Nowakowski’s role as the side’s Technical Assistant entails working with interpreters to simplify complex tactical messages into “one or two words”, which can be conveyed using Auslan.
‘'[James Lambert] comes up with the complex language and my job is to simplify it and work out with the interpreter the best way of bringing that info across,’’ he told FNR.
‘’You might have some really complex strategies you want to bring in and then I have to simplify it down to one or two words, so that sign language is easily conveyed. Thankfully a lot of Auslan is quite easy to bring across a whole idea into a few words and bring in nicknames.’’
Brevity is a skill Nowakowski has perfected since joining the coaching staff.
With communication during play left to a minimum, most of the instructions and tactics are translated during training – forcing Nowakowski to adjust his approach to planning sessions.
‘’It’s a really important skill to try and simplify your language,” he said.
“Coaches, no matter which level you go to, everyone wants to use this verbal vomit of info and throw everything possible. When you don’t have that opportunity, you need to really think about what you’re going to say beforehand and really plan ahead of what you want to say. That means at training I need to ensure the training is specific and relevant and has to be effective so for game days players need to know what their role is.
“On game day you can’t make too many tactical changes because once you start talking to one player on the field they’re suddenly focused on the interpreter and not on the game, so you kind of lose a player that way.’’
Perhaps in contrast to popular belief, there are not too many considerations for deaf football.
Aside from the referees not using a whistle to stop play, the game is played quite aggressively with players not afraid to lay firm or reckless challenges – according to Nowakowski.
‘’It’s not really different to any other football game you’d see,’’ he said.
‘’I guess the only consideration you’d get is when the referee needs to gets everyone’s attention he generally holds his hands in the air to stop the play and then slowly everyone starts to look across and realise they have to stop.
‘’You also have the general consideration that deaf football is a lot firmer, a lot tougher very physical. it’s that old school Australian football from the 80s. There’s no mucking about there are some tough challenges that get thrown in because the players – especially those who are profoundly deaf or taking off their hearing aid for the first time – they don’t really use their peripheral vision as well as they could. They’re keeping the blinders on forward and not seeing what’s all around them so there are lots of challenges in that sense.’’
Nowakowski will be part of the team which leads Australia to the Deaf Football World Championships in South Korea, with the side qualifying for its first tournament first time in five years after being granted a wildcard entry.
The civil unrest in Hong Kong saw Australia miss chance to qualify via the Asian Pacific Games – which were thus cancelled – requiring Australia to apply for a wildcard entry into the tournament.
‘’It was a very bumpy and very confusing road to be blunt,’’ he said.
”It ended up being we put in an application as almost a wildcard entry because with the World Cup expanding its number of teams it basically got put on our ranking based on our last tournament. Our national team finished fifth in the Asian confederation and luckily they wanted to have five teams from the AFC in the 2020 World Championships so we were able to sneak our way in.”
Most of the players in the squad play in National Premier League or State league competitions across Australia, with the national team set to meet three times before jetting off to South Korea in September for the tournament.
‘’We’ve gone from being there to make up the numbers to hopefully being in this tournament to compete,” Nowakowski said.
”We’ve changed a lot in terms of our playing squad and in terms of our technical staff. With James Lambert on board, who is an AFC pro license coach, with our Auslan interpreters as well we should be there to compete at the this tournament.
‘’We have a number of players who come from all over the country so in terms of our national team we can only get together we’re expecting three camps between now and September. We should be able to meet at Easter and towards the end of the NPL season and just before we head over so between now and when we do leave, we have the players on specific programs.’’
Featured Image: Deaf Football Australia