Study Guide: How Team Coaches Break Down the Language Barrier

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Remember that scene in 300 where Leonidas doesn’t allow Ephialtes to join his army because Spartans fight as a ‘’single unit’’ and Ephialtess’ shortcomings would breach this harmony?

This single-unit principle also applies to sports. 

Sports teams and their management need to work as a single coherent body where everyone is on the same page. But these teams usually consist of players of different national origins and spoken languages. There’s a good chance that a US coach will have to deal with at least one foreign player who doesn’t speak English or uses it as a second language. 

Let’s see how sports coaches embrace this challenge and effectively overcome language barriers to ensure their teams’ effectiveness doesn’t suffer from a lack of mutual understanding.

Speaking Plain Language and Clearly

Stereotypical movie coaches tend to communicate with players using a sort of street talk full of jargon terms, sports slang, and other colloquialisms. Real-life coaches are not far off their stereotypical depictions in this regard. But as likable and matey, this makes coaches seem to their native players as unapproachable and distant, making them to foreign ones, further alienating these players from the group. What further exacerbates the problem is that these players might start to feel self-conscious and reluctant to speak out whenever they don’t understand something for fear of seeming like a burden and the odd one out of the group.

Coaches that manage non-native speakers should avoid overusing such vernacular terminology and instead stick to general vocabulary and a clear, straightforward, and easily-intelligible manner of speech. 

Using Visual Aids

Thankfully, sports coaching involves plenty of gesticulation — a sign language of sorts that is visually intuitive for athletes and works across all languages. After all, coaches need to communicate instructions to players during games as well, where spoken communication is not an option at all. 

If coaches can find ways to give clear directives to players on the other side of the field during a heated-up match, surely they can find gestures to compensate for athletes’ language deficiencies in peacetime.

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Use the Interpreter

Using an interpreter doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hire a professional to follow your foreign player around and translate everything you say. (Although extracurricular language classes would speed up the adaptation process). A much better option is to recruit one of the other players who speak the language in question (if such is available) and use their help. This will have the added benefit of bringing players closer together and making the foreign player feel more at home with the team. 

With the ongoing rapid globalization and increasing multiculturalism, language barriers have become widespread bumps in the road for many of us. This growing mix of people with different backgrounds and languages having to cooperate professionally and academically on a regular basis has emphasized the need for quality translation and localization services. But the growing prevalence of such services online, many of which are substandard, has created a problem of too much choice — where one is confused and overwhelmed by the sheer number of available alternatives. Isaccurate is a review website that analyses and ranks translation services according to various criteria like speed, accuracy, and pricing to help you make an informed choice.

Understanding Cultural Differences

Remember, making different sounds when describing things is not the only cross-cultural difference. Athletes who grew up elsewhere will have distinct mindsets and may interpret things differently, so a coach needs to attain a degree of cultural awareness to find mutual ground and correct approach with them. A coach has a relationship not just with the team as a whole but with each individual athlete, which requires a personalized approach to each and every team member.

Bottom Line

A coach’s responsibility is not just telling players how to play but making them feel comfortable and appreciated within the team. No player will be able to extract the maximum of their potential if they don’t feel like they belong with the group. The language barrier is not a new problem, nor is it limited to sports, and there are proven ways to cope. Also, the more time passes, the more a player adapts and catches up to the language and its intricacies, so the language barrier is usually a lessening problem that will naturally iron out over time. Although a dedicated effort will surely speed up the process so encourage your player to take classes or engage in the language during their off hours if they have long-term plans with the team.

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