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To be successful in the sport of soccer you will need lots of talent, practice, and determination. However, all of that will count for nothing if there is no teamwork. Teamwork makes the dream work, as the saying goes, and today we examine one of its key players…communication.
Soccer players use a wide range of verbal and non-verbal cues to communicate during matches. The most common method of communication used by players is verbal. Players at advanced levels also communicate through an understanding of their team’s tactics, which govern how each player responds in a given scenario. Teams can also use codes or even notes.
For the casual fan, trying to figure out how the world’s best players can dovetail so effortlessly can be baffling. Some of the greats are always on the same page, even in the loudest of arenas. It’s almost as if some of them are mind readers. What it is, of course, is effective communication. Let’s have a look.
How do soccer players communicate on the field?
Soccer players make use of various verbal and non-verbal cues and gestures to communicate on the field of play. The most common form of communication is verbal. Players shout for passes, call for others to move into spaces and warn their teammates of opposition threats through a series of barked commands during active play. Soccer also has a few moments of stoppage throughout the 90 minutes, so players can have a quick word or two with each other and their coaches during half-time, drinks breaks, or set-pieces (freekicks, throw-ins, or corners, etc.).
As we climb up the soccer ladder, the intricacy and nuance of communication go up as well. Tactics are how a team is trained, or programmed, to approach a particular game or game scenario. Players are encouraged to study and practice these strategies until they are pretty much part of muscle memory. Each player notices the movements of his or her teammates and immediately knows their own particular role.
An excellent example of this movement-based communication is the counter-attacking cohesion of Tottenham Hotspur FC strikers Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. Whenever Kane receives passes from the midfield on a fast break, Son immediately sprints towards the opponent’s goal in anticipation of the impending pass. When Kane spots the run, he quickly plays a through pass for the pacey Korean to attack.
Teams also use triggers to run certain plays during matches. One player, usually a playmaking midfielder, issues a trigger (either through a gesture or by shouting out the particular play’s codename) to initiate a play and the rest of the team immediately knows what to do. This is especially common during set-pieces, where the freekick or corner taker raises his or her hand to indicate a particular set-play.
Other forms of communication involve sign language, universal gestures, and even pen and paper! Liverpool head coach Jurgen Klopp was once caught up in the eye of a hilarious storm when he famously handed striker Daniel Sturridge a sticky note with tactical instructions on the field. It didn’t work.
Can soccer players hear each other on the field?
The answer to this question may vary because it largely depends on the acoustics of the playing facility, as well as on the size of the watching crowd.
If a team is playing on an open field with no fans, the players will hear each other most of the time, even when standing on opposite ends. Matches in empty stadiums can amplify the players’ and coaches’ voices, which helps with communication.
However, if you are playing in a Camp Nou that is filled to the brim with 100,000 screaming Catalans during a UEFA Champions League semi-final second-leg, expect your chances of casual small talk to be severely diminished. In such a scenario, players will have to trust each other and communicate through gestures or during stoppages. These situations are also another reason why players need to master the team’s tactics and strategic plays because these can also serve as a makeshift “language” when being verbal is ineffective. Messages can also be passed along, broken telephone-style, to players outside of earshot.
What languages do soccer players use to speak to each other?
The global reach of soccer means that many squads are heavily diversified. Of course, teammates in national teams can simply speak to each other in their native languages.
At the club level though, language barriers are not uncommon because the top teams rarely fill their squads with players from one country. To overcome this, teams often ensure that the whole squad has a basic understanding of the local language or the most dominant language in the group. Foreign players are assigned tutors and are expected to learn the language to communicate effectively with teammates and the media. During his time at Spanish giants Real Madrid, Welsh star Gareth Bale had some well-publicized difficulties adapting to the Spanish culture, with the language being a key area he struggled with.
Of course, with the world rapidly becoming a global village, many people around the world are picking up English. As a result, most professional soccer players these days have a basic grasp of English.
As we discussed earlier, coded messages are not uncommon in top-level soccer. Teams are very protective of their strategies and, as a result, many of them make use of coded words or gestures. These codes can be used to mask attacking approaches, defensive strategy, or even mid-game formation changes. Josep “Pep” Guardiola, head coach of Manchester City FC, is one of the many big-name coaches whose teams make frequent use of code-triggered formation changes.
How do soccer managers communicate with foreign players?
The language barrier doesn’t just affect communication among players. This problem also tends to present itself to managers and coaches at all levels.
Like I said earlier, clubs can facilitate cross-cultural assimilation by ensuring that foreign players learn local languages. Of course, sometimes it is the coach who is foreign, and he or she needs to learn the dressing room’s dominant languages. Some coaches make use of interpreters, multi-lingual assistants, and players to help with communication. Legendary Argentinian tactician Marcelo “Not-Even-A-Lick-Of-English” Bielsa of Leeds United FC, has Colombian interpreter Andres Clavijo to help him with his player briefings and team talks.
A lot of well-traveled coaches gain the benefit of bilingualism and multilingualism. Former Arsenal FC boss Arsene Wenger famously speaks six languages. The cultured Frenchman speaks French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, and some basic Japanese. This ability has helped him get the best out of players from almost every continent throughout his illustrious career.