With globalization, countries are experiencing increasing diversity in the composition of their population; this is also clearly identified within the multi-cultural composition of most Premiership teams.
Modern society is bringing together more people who speak different languages, practice different religions, hold different political views, have vastly different amounts of wealth or poverty, practice different sexual orientations, and more. Yet, the fact of the matter is that all individuals that are part of this international system are human, and in order to increase understanding amongst these different peoples, we must pay more attention to our similarities.
Individual differences will lead to conflict at times, but we can avoid many disputes by understanding other cultures, which then explains different motivations, intentions and perceptual frameworks. Improving cultural relations are not going to solve the world’s problems, but they can certainly aid in better relations between international groups.
It is imperative that we enhance international understanding firstly at a local level, beginning with the individual. Larger units and systems will continue to have difficulties in communicating effectively if the individuals that inhabit these groups are ignorant of cultural differences within the system. Person to person exchanges can be used as excellent channels of improving cross-cultural communication. Every person has distinct cultural values, which are not only based on their nationalities, but also on their race, family heritage, religion, socio-economic background, and political views and financial situation, to name a few.
All of these components contribute to a person’s culture, none of which is isolated from another. Somehow, all of these factors contribute to one’s perceptions and motivations, and some contribute more heavily than others. Without communicating with people who come from these varying cultural backgrounds, managers cannot expect to understand why their belief systems might differ. For that reason, it is essential that they make use of the most effective channels of cross-cultural communication.
The notion that sport can be used or abused cannot be overemphasized, as a plethora of examples exist to support both arguments. The language of sport that all people can share is relative, considering these variations of cultural values that shape sporting activities. Many aspects of soccer, such as the rules of the game, are standardized all over the world, but as I have shown, there are many cultural values that affect the prominent styles, structures, and forms of sport. It is evident that sport cannot be separated from political, economic, and social realms of society. Depending on the structure and level of sport, participants and spectators can benefit from its values that are generally conceived as inherent traits, such as fair and competitive play, which are beneficial for one’s overall health.
This series of articles has endeavoured to illustrate why it is important for professional managers in soccer to develop an understanding of cultural and ethnic differences in sport participation. The development of skills for effective communication with people from a range of different cultural groups can be seen as core skills for managers.
There is still too little research (especially participant observation accounts) from the perspective of players who are members of non-dominant ethnic groups.
Research from these perspectives is needed to understand the experiences of such players. There is also a need for detailed case studies of successful or effective management styles in sport organisations that include participants from a range of ethnic groups. By mapping the experience of cultural difference in sport, and by identifying best practice for the management of cultural diversity in sport, sport managers will become more effective. In the process, the academic study of sport management may make a distinctive contribution to the burgeoning literature on the methods and challenges of managing across cultures.
This series calls for professional soccer manages to adopt a synergistic orientation towards their supervision of athletes towards what may be defined as a more ‘cosmopolitan’ orientation, displaying effective intercultural communication and negotiation skills. This may help to facilitate a worldview that focuses more on listening to the athlete’s concerns and allows the athlete to find his or her own way.
The incorporation of a multicultural worldview would allow the manager and support team to consider the cultural context of the athlete. A multicultural worldview would therefore encompasses group identity (i.e., cultural consciousness), individual identity (i.e., self-concept), beliefs (e.g., spirituality), values (e.g., family), and language. There is evidently room for elite soccer coaches to examine their own perceptions (and in some cases, misperceptions!) regarding player cultures before attempting to understand or work with individuals from such cultures.
New innovative and reflective manager training courses are clearly required to allow individuals to manage their responsibilities as effectively as possible and facilitate critical interventions. One such initiative in Britain is the training program available to all football managers at Warwick Business School in the UK (certificate in Applied Management) (Russell, 2005). This new qualification is unique in European football and contains training in marketing, media relations, sports psychology, branding, and influencing skills.
In England, up until the creation of the UEFA professional license in 2002, the main qualification for football management seems to have been being a former player. In Germany, in contrast, aspiring managers have to undergo a mandatory apprenticeship of two years in the lower leagues. The challenge to develop a management education course is to allow prospective candidates to learn effectively from their experience.
Cognitive skills grow from experience and a course which allows individuals to reflect on their skills will inevitably enhance their effectiveness in a dynamic, diverse and complex activity.
Dr. Ian Lawrence is a Senior Lecturer in Sports Business Management and Marketing at the Leeds Metropolitan University.