Cricket can mean a lot to those in the game. It can be source of release and distraction, a chance to set and achieve goals and dozens of other things. For Sean Walsh, it has been more profound. He credits the sport with guiding him through a life changing experience.
At the same point in his life that he was picking up a bat and ball for the first time in Rockhampton, Queensland there were complications in ear surgery that caused damage to his ear drums. As a result, he was left with profound loss of hearing.
From the formative stages of playing he felt it hard to progress.
“I probably wasn’t taken too seriously by fellow team mates and some coaches. People often equate a lack of communication to how switched on you are as a person and some made a big deal out of the fact that they need to yell or put me somewhere in the field where I can be hidden because of the thought that I have a disability so I must be rubbish.”
Deaf people can tend to be a bit to themselves and not overly excited to share feeling and emotions so there are a lot of deaf teens in particular going through things that even their parents or best or friends would know.
For me it’s a bit different having great family and amazing support but the effects of bullying in high school are very much still impacting me aged 22 so at times still even feel a bit shy about opening up but thats the main thing I always tell kids at H4Y is that a problem shared is a problem halved.
A little understanding of how to interact with someone who is deaf would have made a big difference. Sean gives two simple pieces of advice
“Don’t talk differently and keep eye contact”
Such engagement can go a long way to making that player feel less different and more involved, by being able to follow game instructions as well as the social aspects. Patience is keen too. Deafness affects individuals and their ability to communicate in different ways.
“I’ve been extremely lucky that I’ve been able to still fully communicate orally with the hearing aids but I did heavily rely on my lip reading when I was in primary school as It took doctors about two years after the hearing loss to diagnose it so I was left to learn how to read and write my lip reading and picking up the minimal sound that I could. I’ve since been lucky enough to learn sign which has been massive for me to show my appreciation for the deaf community and how special the beautiful art of AUSLAN is.”
Looking forward to the 2019/20 season with University of Queensland CC in the Queensland Premier Cricket, he has been able to continue his love of the sport through club cricket but also through representing Australia internationally. His experiences of playing for the national deaf team across the world is something he is keen to see more and more have the chance to access.
“The mateship in our Australian Deaf squad is unlike any team environment I’ve been a part of on or off the cricket field. With all of the players battling the same barriers to play cricket we just get one another and are absolutely the closest of mates. Also, cricket wise the professionalism of playing for your country is obviously a massive jump up standard wise especially coming from country cricket to playing for Australia.”
The opportunities for young deaf cricketers are certainly there for aspiring players with an established route to international recognition
“With Cricket Australia now having a clear pathway for young Deaf and Hard of Hearing kids in Australia it’s super exciting. The pathway which most follow is being identified by a local state cricket association while playing club cricket and then invited to play for their state in the NCIC . From there good performances and consistent output in club cricket as well as for your state can lead to selection”
He is passionate about giving young deaf people the support to develop, whether it be as cricketers or along other paths in life.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a Deaf and HOH non for profit charity since 2016 called Hear For You where me mentor young Deaf and Hear of Hearing teenagers from the ages of 12-17 and give them the life skills and tools to be able to leave high school and tackle the big bad world so through that i’ve been able to learn a lot about Deaf teenagers and my biggest piece of advice would be to find something your passionate about and put all your energy into it regardless of what others think”
As well as things are going now, there have been bumps in the road as the impact of losing his hearing also prompted declines in mental health
“As someone who went through a pretty traumatic experience as a young kid, I’ve had pretty high level of anxiety which affect me on a day to day basis around flashbacks and random panic attacks so there have been times where I’ve had to go home from work just because I could not function properly. Anxiety is something that comes in all different forms but for me performance anxiety around anything in life not just my cricket is one that really affects me and have been lucky enough to get some amazing support from HeadSpace and give me the tools to be able to cope”
From adversity in his early days to success and confidence now in his twenties, Sean Walsh’s story is one of purpose and pursuing the chances available to him. At each stage, he has sought help. Not because he is weak but because he wanted to grow stronger. A principle that can’t be endorsed enough.