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Communicating Across Cultures

All coaches should get to know all their players as well as they can. This essential coaching knowledge can be hard to come by when each season brings new players with different backgrounds, experiences, and motivations. To help all your players succeed, it is imperative to learn about each one individually and then use that information as you coach them through the trials and tribulations that a rugby season brings. Once coaches accept the responsibility to learn more about their athletes they are more likely to build strong relationships with their players and, in turn, enjoy a loyal following. They should see growth in both the self-esteem and physical skills of athletes who will also appreciate that their coach sees them as individuals and understands their personalities.

The following material was developed by the New Zealand Rugby Union to help coaches begin this process of getting to know the players in their rugby team.

Many Provincial Unions run their own ‘Cultural Awareness' modules or courses and we would advise that coaches made an effort to attend these. Ring your local Rugby Development Officer for more information.

Why Cultural Awareness?

  • To help you gain a better understanding of your players and their families.
  • To enable you to create coping strategies for yourself, your players and your team.
  • To help foster understanding within your team.
  • To gain support from your players, their families and the wider community.

Cultural Issues A Coach Should Be Aware Of

  • In all cultures family has high importance and to gain the players' support the coach should also seek the support of the whole family.
  • Religion has a huge influence in many cultures and prayer may be appropriate. The use of inappropriate language should be avoided.
  • Many cultures believe making direct eye contact or speaking out of turn is inappropriate, and yet looking down and not talking can be interpreted by the coach as evidence a player is inattentive and is unwilling to interact.
  • Questioning and confronting players in front of the whole team can be interpreted by a player as belittling and may be better done privately.
  • As a coach, your standing (mana) in the eyes of your players will be enhanced if you take time to learn a little about their culture, are able to pronounce their names correctly, and learn some basic forms of communication, such as greeting and farewell.
  • Most cultures have spiritual aspects and rituals to consider. The spirit of the group and individual should be treated with respect.

New Zealand is a society made up of many cultures, and as a coach you should be aware of the cultural differences between players, such as behaviour, beliefs and social structure that belong to these cultures.

If you are unsure how to react or communicate with a player from a different culture, then ask someone for advice, otherwise a sincere honest and friendly approach will always be appreciated.