Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Importance of Using Jargon-Free and Slang-Free Language When You Coach

Plain English please! (or whatever language you coach in)

"You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't."

"You're burning your candle at both ends."

"It's boiling out", "do that ASAP"

Think about these sayings. Who would know them and at what age would they have understood their meaning?  Your job as a coach is to make yourself understood so you can transfer your knowledge to your players.

Let's discuss the age of understanding jargon and slang.

If you grew up in North America and English was your family's first language, you would probably catch on to the meaning of those two sayings at around 12 years old.  If English is not your family's first language, then chances are you incorporated these sayings into your vocabulary much later.  My parents are Italian and I can tell you with great certainty that my mother's English did not include, "A stitch in time saves nine".
Special note: during this article, when we are discussing the art of making yourself understood, pretend your favourite coach educator is in your ear whispering "don't forget to enhance your teaching with a good demonstration."
When you're coaching youth players, it's easy to just keep talking assuming anybody who understands English is following what you're saying.  If your English is laced with - oops, slang - if your English is not using formal structure and proper vocabulary, you run the risk of young players not understanding 100% of what you're saying.

With youth players: pay attention to what you say and the pace at which you speak.  Leave your workplace English at work and remember you're speaking with youth players.

Where do your players come from?

I teach Electricity and coach men's soccer at Niagara College in Welland, ON.  My life at the college is immersed in our diverse student population with students from all over the world.  At tryouts and in the classroom, I interact with students and student-athletes who understand English, but it's not their first language.  In the classroom, English needs to be spoken clearly and using good form.  No slang.  Lessons, materials and tests must be written in proper English to avoid misunderstanding and/or misinterpretation.  We are encouraged to use the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to meet the needs of our diverse populations.  Making yourself understood is something that takes a conscious effort and takes practice.

Why is this so important?

If you live in any country where there is multilingualism, multiculturalism and immigration, you will have a diverse audience.  This is your challenge.

During my youth in Welland, we had many friends who grew up in Francophone homes where English wasn't their first language.  Kids who - oops slang again - children who were born in Canada and grew up 50ft from my house spoke English with a French accent.  Most of my non-francophone friends grew up in homes where English was not our parents' first language.  Hungarian, Croatian, Italian, German, everything.  We were all born here but grew up in different language environments until we entered kindergarten.  We all had something different about our English.  Now, Welland has more residents who speak Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Punjabi, Portuguese, among other languages.  These are your players and their parents.  Welcome to Welland. Welcome to Canada.  (Please note: I love that we are like this)

We also participate in the most international sport in the world, so immigrants who move to a new land often look to soccer as one of their first steps towards integration into the community.

Tips for ensuring you are understood and your message is heard:
  • Speak slower and more intentionally.
  • Eliminate sarcasm.
  • If you are a joker, reshape your delivery. 
  • Do not make assumptions about other cultures.
  • Use visual aids and demonstrations where possible.
  • If the environment allows for it, provide support materials before and after your interaction.
  • Remember, this isn't only for players, but for interactions with diverse parent groups as well.
  • Remember that your audience cannot read your mind.

This isn't only about possible language barriers, but also addresses the need for differentiated instruction methods to address different learning styles.  These efforts have a positive effect on many facets of your program.

Take this as a challenge to become a more polished communicator who is able to maximize their time with their teams.

P.S.  I am not an expert on UDL, diversity or multiculturalism, but I am mindful.  I lean heavily on friends at Niagara College who teach English to our International students and consult with them before "stepping in something". That's slang... 

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