Step onto the sideline of almost any New Jersey soccer field and over top of the parents cheering, the players communicating, and the ref’s whistle, is a coach often directing in a foreign accent. As a NJ born coach, the majority of my colleagues and contacts are not from home soil, but I enjoy that because they display passion for the game and are so eager to talk about anything soccer when given the chance. However I do admit there is a sense of comfort when there is a fellow “American” on the sideline. I use the term “American” loosely because many of our citizen/coaches have accents themselves. The comfort may be stemmed from the fact that I am confident I can out-coach the opposition if needed, but I think it is more that U.S. born professionals are getting opportunity in a field of great job potential.
I truly believe the accent sells in youth soccer. My sample is coming mainly from New Jersey, which may be a little skewed due to its geographical allure to NYC, Philly, and the Shore. However, it is clear when attending a large-scale tournament such as EDP Easter Showcase and you are literally surrounded by 8 different accents on 10 fields in earshot, that you are in a minority. It is perceived that if you have an accent you know more about soccer. To be perfectly fair that is probably true in most cases. Many of these coaches grew up in soccer countries, where it is embedded in them at an early age. These coaches have more time on task, more time watching the game, and a more experienced culture surrounding the sport which provides them a greater knowledge of the game. So your perception is reality. Although this does not necessarily translate to the coaching aspect of the game where communication is key. Some players will respond well to the accent, but other players will tune it out because it is just too hard to follow. For example, I was sitting and watching a game this weekend and listened to a 10 minute post-game talk (10 minutes because it was not a win) from a coach with an accent and it was hard to follow even for myself as an experienced coach working with the soccer accent every day. My point is that I do think as human beings we generally are more receptive to someone who sound’s like us, and in this way at least I think U.S. coaches do have a leg up when communicating with their players.
The accent just sounds better on a sideline though. It is the professional tone delivered, some are masters of linguistics, but others are so broken it just sounds right. In an accent a line just sounds more motivating and with an affliction that even if I am harsh on my players it is OK. If you listen to the two sound bytes below, tell me which one you prefer.
Maybe it is because all of our TV coverage of professional soccer is commentated by foreign reporters, that we are now so used to having the accent around the game. Or maybe it is because we have such an international influence in New Jersey to where teams are named after Machester United, Bayern Munich, and commonly Barcelona, and far too commonly Besiktas (really?). What is a Besiktas? A question I am sure is often asked… What happened to naming our teams the Stingers, or Falcons, or Stuffed Animals? Even clubs like Real New Jersey adorn a crest remarkably similar to that of Madrid’s. Major clubs like MatchFit Academy have formerly taken namesakes (Chelsea) in what I am sure will return with European Clubs looking to break into the growing American market. Southampton from England is doing a huge coaching series with NSCAA this year. Everything is becoming so un-American, that I fear we may call it football in some time, and I believe this is contributing to the accent’s success. However, it is expected at this growing stage of the game.
Again, this could sound like a very pro – 2nd generation or more – American coaching campaign, but it is not intended to be. I love what foreign influence has done to youth soccer, it wouldn’t be the business it has become without these entrepreneurs. However I don’t love when parents who meet me for the first time, some after hearing me coach, ask me… So where are you from? Proudly I say Hightstown, NJ born and raised. It is expected that if you are knowledgeable in the sport of soccer you come with an accent these days. I am out there trying to break that stereotype and there are a lot of other good, young, NJ soccer professionals trying to do the same. I just hope NJ clubs continue to give them the same opportunity and listen to what they have to say and read what they have to write because there is often a lot or a little knowledge hidden behind an accent.