Breaking Barriers: Emily Spreeman’s Impact on U.S. Soccer and Deaf Athletes

Discovering a Passion Against All Odds

Emily Spreeman a game-changer for U.S. Soccer and deaf athletes - Los Angeles Times

Emily Spreeman, a remarkable figure in U.S. Soccer and the world of deaf athletes, began her journey without even knowing it. Born deaf, her family only realized her condition when she was around nine months old. Her early challenges could not deter her from her path to becoming a game-changer in the world of sports.

“My grandma was sitting next to my crib, and my parents are like ‘I don’t think she can hear because the baby’s not waking to any loud noises’,” Spreeman remembered.

Breaking Barriers from a Young Age

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Emily’s parents signed her up for a youth soccer team when she was just four years old, sending a powerful message that her deafness wouldn’t define her capabilities. By age seven, she joined a club soccer program and quickly proved her talent, earning a spot in U.S. youth national teams and the Olympic Development Program.

“I’m a very competitive person. I just want to prove that I belong on the field,” said Spreeman.

A Journey of Triumph

Spreeman’s story unfolds as she excels on the soccer field, challenging the notion that deaf athletes can’t compete at the highest levels. Her journey in the world of sports led her to become a standout college player at Kansas. But her story doesn’t stop here.

By the time she reached high school, Emily was already representing the deaf national team. She made her competitive debut at the 2005 Deaflympics in Australia. Since then, the women’s deaf national team has achieved remarkable success, boasting a record of 37-0-1, including four Deaflympics titles and three World Deaf Football Championships.

"We’re the greatest team you’ve never heard of," she said, emphasizing their incredible achievements.

The Most Decorated Player on the Field

In an unexpected twist, the most decorated player on the field during a recent women’s national team friendly wasn’t a household name like Alex Morgan or Lindsey Horan. It was Emily Spreeman. Her impact on the sport and her unwavering dedication to the deaf national team showcase her commitment to both her sport and the deaf community.

Deafness as an Advantage

Emily Spreeman’s success is not solely a result of her extraordinary dedication but also her unique perspective as a deaf athlete. Joy Fawcett, a World Cup champion and coach of the deaf national team, highlights how deafness has honed Spreeman’s skills.

“She’s very aware of where the defenders are. Being deaf has helped that. You have to look more and see where things are and not just rely on your hearing,” says Fawcett.

A Path of Greater Support and Inclusion

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While the journey of the women’s deaf national team was often marked by self-sufficiency and a lack of consistent support, a significant change occurred when the U.S. Soccer Federation expanded its umbrella of support. This expansion now covers a wider range of national teams, including the men’s and women’s deaf teams.

"What we’re doing is we’re creating relevant role models for different sections of society so they can aspire to be national team players," says Stuart Sharp, senior director of the Extended National Teams program.

This shift represents a fundamental change in how U.S. Soccer views and supports its extended national teams, including those of deaf athletes.

A New Era for Deaf Athletes in U.S. Soccer

Emily Spreeman a game-changer for U.S. Soccer and deaf athletes - Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Soccer Federation’s support has not only relieved financial burdens for the deaf national team but has also opened doors for recruiting young talents. With improved accommodations and increased recognition, the team can now focus on creating a youth program to nurture future talents.

“The players feel more valued. Just to be able to say ‘OK, you’re invited’,” Fawcett said. “Having that backing and the social media and all the people and the staff, that will bring in more players so that the USA Deaf Soccer Association now can focus on creating the youth program to help feed this team. That’s kind of the next step, to create the younger teams and continue to get the word out.”

Emily Spreeman’s inspiring journey is a testament to what can be achieved when talent, determination, and support converge. As a game-changer for U.S. Soccer and a beacon of hope for deaf athletes, her story is one that will inspire generations to come. She reminds us that true game-changers are not bound by limitations; they defy them.

U.S. Soccer Federation’s Support for Deaf Athletes

Was Emily Spreeman born deaf?

Emily Spreeman entered this world facing a unique challenge — she was born deaf. However, this fact remained undiscovered by her family until she reached nearly nine months of age. Emily’s family first suspected her deafness when they noticed she didn’t respond to loud noises, as her grandmother sat by her crib. Their hunch was later confirmed by an audiologist, shedding light on the beginning of an extraordinary journey for Emily.

Can Emily Spreeman hold her own against World Cup stars?

Emily Spreeman has emerged as a key figure in the ascent of the U.S. women’s deaf national soccer team, a testament to her ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with World Cup stars. Her performance on the field underscores her capacity to compete at the highest levels, bridging the gap between deaf athletes and some of the most celebrated names in the sport.

How can the USA Deaf Soccer Association help a deaf soccer team?

Support from the USA Deaf Soccer Association has the potential to transform the landscape for deaf soccer teams. With increased backing, a strong presence on social media, and a dedicated staff, the Association can attract more players, enabling them to shift their focus towards establishing a robust youth program. This strategic move aims to nurture talent at a younger age, create younger teams, and spread awareness about the opportunities for deaf athletes, marking a significant step forward in the journey of deaf soccer.

How did the women’s Deaf national team work?

Throughout much of its history, the women’s deaf national team functioned autonomously, operating independently of U.S. Soccer. They proudly represented the nation at international events, donning the national crest. However, this remarkable team faced a challenge in securing substantial funding and consistent support from the federation, highlighting their resilience and determination to succeed against the odds.

What is the impact of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s support on deaf athletes like Emily Spreeman?

Fawcett underscores that the U.S. Soccer Federation’s support has brought about a transformation for deaf athletes, including Emily Spreeman. This backing has relieved the team from the financial burden of travel expenses and provided accommodations on par with those enjoyed by World Cup teams. Moreover, it has played a pivotal role in recruiting young talents, shaping a promising future for deaf athletes who aspire to follow in Emily’s footsteps.

How has Emily Spreeman inspired deaf athletes?

According to Fawcett, Emily Spreeman’s impact on the world of soccer extends beyond her impressive skills. She is recognized as a smart, fast, and confident forward who excels in making strategic runs on the field. Fawcett attributes a part of Emily’s success to her deafness, explaining that it has enhanced her awareness of the game. Deaf athletes find inspiration in Emily’s ability to rely on her visual senses and adapt, setting a remarkable example for others in the deaf community.

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