The theoretical components of national (FA) and international (FIFA) training courses provide managers with ways of applying their practical knowledge. Practical knowledge—the basis of our ability to perform successfully as participants in a social practice, is largely tacit and unconscious. The reality however is that no amount of classroom experience could more than scratch the surface of the complex habits, skills, background information, and situational awareness that even a simple conversation requires, much of which cannot be articulated verbally.
Practical knowledge is rather simplistically assumed by some theorists to be promoted only via the accumulation of direct experience. If this is indeed true, this would present a steep learning curve for the manager expected to work within a dynamic multicultural setting. Human experience is evidently organised through a multiplicity of ontologies and is bound to produce different interpretations of reality. It is not so much the experience of sport per se but the meaning we attach to this experience that helps us understand cultural differences.
It appears that many managers, either implicitly or explicitly, are influenced by early role models and mentors as they feel their way into new positions, as such models provide “an initial road map into an uncertain future” (Kekale, 1998).
Many ‘experts’ evidently are highly influenced by their own experience as players and managers who not only teach them the technical, tactical and physical skills but also shared philosophies, beliefs and values about coaching and dealing with people.
This process is arguably a form of ‘organisational socialisation’ whereby trainee coaches, in addition to learning the technical aspects of the position, are inculcated with shared understandings regarding the ideology and critical aspects of the occupation.
In order to illustrate the ways in which interpersonal communication may vary across cultures, two specific dimensions of interpersonal communication are outlined. These dimensions, which have been linked to the contexts of cultural differences in England and abroad, are: inclusion versus exclusion and egalitarianism versus respect.
Inclusion versus Exclusion
Inclusion is a style of social behaviour that emphasises a sense of belonging, membership or solidarity among people by incorporating them into a group. Acts of inclusion comprise behaviours such as greetings, welcomes, and invitations to join an activity. Group boundaries are generally flexible and loosely defined.
Exclusion is a style of social behaviour encompassing solitary activities or a one-to-one intensive interaction or relationship between two people. Exclusive patterns involve ignoring or rejecting other people. Often the ‘suitability’ of someone who might join a group must be assessed.
In sports settings, inclusion is evident when new participants are welcomed into a team or game; ensuring newcomers are introduced to others, extending personal invitations to attend social events. In contrast, exclusive styles are evident when newcomers are not acknowledged or welcomed when they attend events, when they find it hard to meet existing participants, and when they are left out of the information networks which are used to announce informal social events.
Attracting and retaining participants in sport settings will be facilitated if emphasis is given to inclusive social behaviours that make newcomers feel welcome. Newcomers from cultures that emphasise inclusiveness may interpret a lack of inclusion behaviours as distinctly unfriendly, and may consequently feel that they are unwelcome. This has been responded to by a variety of Premiership teams in recent times with a dedicated staff of ‘human resources’ whose responsibility is to integrate new players and families into their new culture.
Egalitarianism versus Respect
Thomas and Thomas (1994) outlined some of the key features related to the dimension of egalitarianism versus respect. Egalitarianism is a style of social interaction where the communication patterns of participants have two characteristics. First, they tend to reduce the use of, or ignore, status markers during the interaction. Second, they tend to reflect informality and resistance to the use of status markers when participants have become familiar with each other.
Respect is a style of social interaction where status differences among participants are acknowledged during communication. This can occur through the use of clear status markers (such as players using titles such as ‘boss’ or the ‘guv/governor’ when referring to the manager of the team). It may extend to the use of the status markers even when the participants are very familiar with one another.
It is common for people in Britain to emphasise egalitarian styles of social interaction. In this style, differences in social status are downplayed or ignored. An example of the egalitarian style is suspicion or criticism of those who strive for achievement or who are different from the egalitarian ‘gatekeepers.’, criticism of those who are seen to be high achievers is referred to as the ‘tall poppy syndrome’.
‘Tall poppies’ are those who stand out too much above the others and need to be cut down to size. This pattern is most likely to be initiated by people whose status or power is equal to or lower than the person addressed. The most appropriate rejoinder (to maintain the face of both parties) is to give an insult which belittles the person initiating the insult in a humorous manner. Taking insulting greetings seriously (e.g., responding to the insult with other than good humour) is seen as setting oneself apart from the egalitarian ethos of the group and may lead to that player feeling ostracised by their team mates.
In a soccer context, egalitarianism might be shown by expecting first names or nick names to be used by junior players to senior players. In egalitarian styles, players expect equal treatment, regardless of length of time as a team member or level of expertise. In contrast, respect communication styles might involve behaviours that acknowledge the skills of more experienced players and those who have been members longer.
Additionally, respect styles are likely to include some recognition of the responsibilities and status of club managers and coaches. Participants from cultures that use ‘respect’ styles may be uncomfortable in settings where egalitarian behaviours and rituals (e.g., using ‘humorous’ insults) are expected or emphasised.
Not participating may be interpreted as unfriendly or as a lack of solidarity by people immersed in egalitarian styles as a ‘normal’ part of interpersonal communication. In situations of this kind, sport managers can help ease the transition into sport settings for participants from cultural backgrounds where respect styles of interpersonal communication are expected.
Culture evidently presents a complex challenge for the soccer manager. It requires recognition that each player has an intertwined system of values, attitudes, beliefs and norms that give meaning and significance to both individual and collective identity. This requires ‘indwelling’ and tacit knowledge for understanding and absorbing, and consequently there may be many aspects that escape the notice of an outsider.
Soccer culture can be understood by the manager as a pattern of ‘taken for granted’ assumptions about how a given collection of people should think, act, and feel as they go about their daily affairs. Every soccer team has a defined culture or system encapsulated by its manager and underpinned by its own internal coherence, integrity and logic, which differentiate it from another culture and which may not make sense to those who are not members of the same club. For a newly arrived player this can be defined as ‘culture shock’ and by virtue of this experience necessitate fundamental changes to their value system. It is theoretically the manager’s insider’s knowledge of the experience of living within a group that facilitates and develops the shared cultural perspectives and communicative codes.
Dr. Ian Lawrence is a Senior Lecturer in Sports Business Management and Marketing at the Leeds Metropolitan University.