It's not uncommon for a team, national or other, to have a coach that doesn't speak the mother tongue of most of the players. In this case, the normal solution is of course to use English as a kind of lingua franca.

But how is the situation normally handled when the coach has one of two or more official languages as his/her mother tongue?

I'm thinking of for example Marc Wilmots who coaches the Belgian national football team.

I can see several viable solutions: using English, having assistant coaches translating, or even presuming that all involved understands one of the languages.

  • 1
    As far as Belgium goes, Wilmots speaks French and Dutch. So he would have no problem communicating. For the rest: English, English and ... you guessed it: English.
    – Don_Biglia
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 19:00
  • There is a universal language of football. Any player can understand "pass it", "just f****** shoot" etc.
    – Alex Logan
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 9:12

3 Answers 3


In regards to some American sports leagues (NBA, for example) teams will supply an English "teacher" to the player that doesn't speak the language and will rely on the common language of sport. It is relatively easy for players to pick up on general concepts like "shoot", "dribble", etc. Eventually they will follow pointing, examples, and such until they learn more of the language.

While it is possible for them to adjust with these archaic forms of communication it does cause problems in the full adjustment of players/teams so that will sometimes go into team selection, drafting, etc.


Most sports (such as the Belgian football example you gave) do not have rules that are extremely complicated so hand signals and pointing can help players understand most instructions even with a lack of language fluency.

Some combination of the factors you mentioned (speaking a language that most players understand and expecting the others to learn or rely on assistant coaches and other translators as needed) are viable methods to help bridge the gap.

In the United States there have been many examples of foreign NBA players with limited knowledge of English. They have been able to function just fine and generally understand what the coaching staff is asking them to do.


As far as football (soccer) goes, in clubs that have many players from different countries speaking different languages, the following are typically the case for an example of an English football club with an Italian coach and some non-English speaking players:

The coach will be required/strongly encouraged to learn to speak in the language of the country the club is from, e.g. if a coach is Italian and works for an English club, he will be strongly encouraged to learn English to a level sufficient for speaking in English to convey his wishes.

The coach can have a human translator besides him that translates everything he says.

Non-English speaking players, like the coach, will be encouraged/required to learn English, some can get away with communicating with the coach in Italian sometimes.

English speaking teammates can translate things to non-English speaking teammates.

Remember that you don't need to be super fluent in English as a player to play well for an Italian manager in an English club, basic phrases and hand gestures should be enough.

  • 1
    Welcome to SE.Sport. Can you add any references/experience on what you have answer? Take a look at your answer, maybe you do not have finish it
    – Ale
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 16:18

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