Online practice sessions: How do we overcome the language barrier? | Club Respect Online practice sessions: How do we overcome the language barrier? | Club Respect

Online practice sessions: How do we overcome the language barrier?


This response relates only to the question and should not be extrapolated. There is never one situation that is identical to another and sometimes even the smallest detail matters.


Kristy from an Athletics club in Melbourne asks “Our training sessions are mainly online now. One thing we have noticed is that the video calls make it hard for those athletes where English isn’t their best language. What can we do to get their attention and provide additional support?”


Our Panel Of Expertise panellist, Julia Symons, has responded to the question:

“I can’t hear you, you’re on mute.”
“Can you hear me?”
“Wait, my camera isn’t working.”

Despite video calls increasingly becoming the ‘new norm’ in our sporting, social and work lives, they’re not without their challenges!

Beyond language barriers, there could be many factors influencing the ability of your multilingual athletes to engage fully with online training sessions, as well as your broader training group. But the best way to understand how to meet the needs of the athletes is to ask them. If the athletes feel culturally safe in your club, they may be comfortable discussing what they need from you to fully participate. In a one-on-one interaction like a phone call, text message or messaging app exchange, start by seeking to understand how your athlete is doing outside their sporting environment, as an informal ‘check-in’: “How are they coping with the changes this year has brought about?”, “How is their family?”, “How is work or study going?” or “How have they been feeling?”

Showing that you care about the athletes beyond their sporting results or outcomes helps to build trust and rapport, so that when it comes to trickier topics, they may be more likely to be honest with you. Depending upon their age, it may also be appropriate to have this conversation with their parents or guardians too.

If the athletes have strong relationships with other members or teammates at your club, consider enlisting their assistance and support. In some cultures, speaking frankly or directly with authority figures such as coaches may be seen as disrespectful to that coach. So a teammate may have more luck eliciting a response to the questions above, depending upon the individual.

Also, consider:

  • Using visual props ie. white boards, cues ie. hand signals or demonstrations to show the drills or training exercises that the athletes should be doing.
  • Asking a senior or more experienced athlete from the club/team to complete the drills in the session in advance and record themselves doing it, to then share with the whole team.
  • Integrating powerpoint slides by ‘sharing’ the coaches screen (a functionality on most video conferencing platforms), so that your athletes watching at home can read the session plan or see the training activities mapped out visually.
  • Posting or emailing your session plans each month, so athletes can see a hard copy of what is required of them well in advance.
  • Think of the most common words in your training sessions ie. good work, keep going, yes, no, start, stop. Could you ask the multilingual athletes to translate these words for your coaches, so they can share them with the whole squad and incorporate them into the training sessions for everyone? Be sure to ask them ‘offline’ or perhaps in a text message so they can consider the request and reply in their own time. Alternatively, you could ask a cultural association or representative group of the athlete’s heritage for assistance with these basic translations. You could also demonstrate your willingness and to connect with them on a cultural level, by learning about and acknowledging their national days of significance.
  • Share links during training to footage of competitions or performances of other athletes that you want your athletes to emulate, ensuring that you’re highlighting athletes from different cultures and nationalities.

Remember that any changes you make to enable your culturally diverse athletes to feel more supported will contribute to a more inclusive culture across your whole club. Good luck!

As a former athlete, Julia now watches the rising tide of women’s sport across the globe and works to ensure that all women, regardless of background or ability, feel welcome on the field, in the stands, or in the boardroom. Read all of Julia’s responses to the Panel Of Expertise here.

While all attempts have been made to verify the accuracy of the information provided in this written response, the Panel Of Expertise panellists assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions. Should a sports club face any difficulties as a result of acting on the advice, it is recommended that they seek out independent professional technical support to rectify the situation. The Club Respect panellists will not be held responsible for any repercussions beyond the scope of this response.