ESLD awareness for coaches of remote First Nations players

February 5, 2020

Most First Nations mob in remote communities speak more than one language but few have Standard Australian English as their first. Many Aboriginal people will grow up speaking language, Kriole or Aboriginal English at home and often only learn English at school. Our language shapes part of our identity and the way we see the world. You might find this is true for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in town or rural settings too- that was the case for many of my mates from different bigger towns but I can’t speak from that lived experience.

People often notice I have an accent but they often think I am South African or some different country. Many people don’t realise that we have so many languages and accents in Australia too.

In my languages and culture we use lots of gestures, facial expressions and body language to add depth and meaning to what we are saying. We also use silence and pause in different way. We tell stories in a different way too. We have different people we are permitted to speak to, ones we are not and even different ways you can behave with different people too. Eye contact can be disrespectful and challenging. Sometimes our mob will agree to something but in our concepts of time or level of commitment or what trumps that commitment can be different- so we can commit to different things in different ways. Sometimes young boys can be initiated as men and then earn different kinds of responsibilities and respect. Some kids grow up not knowing that there is a different way of being or thinking- so this can lead to misunderstandings on both ends when dealing with things in Western Culture and also in the sports industry.

So when coaching remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island players its important to remember that things you are saying could be perceived through a different lens. The following advice isn’t meant to have First Nations people treated different or ‘gently’ or see them as snowflakes or special or whatever. It’s just so you know- cause once you know you might be able to make a few small changes and help someone who has had a long road to get here to have a fair shot. Equity isn’t always about being treated equally but about making the right adjustments so they have equal access to the same outcome. First Nations players are worth fostering and working for- cause once they are comfortable and in the team they will sure as hell work hard for you.

  • Being really clear and going through things in detail will help your player not miss anything or assume that the Western way of doing things is the same as the way they have done them previously. You might also need to go slowly and use lots of check for understandings- and be aware that your player might feel too ‘shame’ to admit that they don’t know or understand.
  • You might need to slow down just a little because your player might be translating your English as they are not a native English speaker. English might be their second, third or fourth language or dialect.
  • It’s always good to show what you are talking about in different ways- have players demonstrate, use the whiteboard in the change rooms, show videos and work through the move so they can see the change. You might have another player re-explain what you have just said in their own words to the whole group. Often our mob learn by watching and then doing.
  • It’s really likely that your player will hate being singled out for an issue, praise or improvement suggestions in front of the whole group. If you have something to say its often best to say it in private if possible. You might also need to sit down and explain your coaching approach and that the way you do things won’t be to put them down or make them ‘shame’ but to help them improve.
  • Your player might have grown up around conflict- so when challenged they may see this as an attack or threat even though you are just offering feedback. Be aware of your tone and body language when giving direction and feedback. They might respond with minimal verbal or eye contact that may appear rude but they will likely just be processing what you have said. Check in later, in a quiet safe space one-on-one to see if they understood what you had to say.
  • If possible organise a mentor, role model or older Aboriginal person to work with the team. They will be able to code-switch and explain ideas better two way. They can also act as an advocate for the players that might not no the right way to say things.
  • Your player might get exhausted code-switching and translating English to their language and back in their heads.
  • Learn some of their lingo. Aboriginal English, Kriole or traditional language. It might make them feel more included as well as help get ideas across.
  • Have an Acknowledgement of Country at meetings and events- let them see that you respect different languages, cultures and First Nations sovereignty.
  • If possible have more than one First Nations players in your teams or even better start recruiting First Nations people across every level in your league- junior, amateur, senior and elite. That way you are fostering leadership and role models amongst your own league who can support each other.
  • You might speak with the player’s old teachers- they might be able to explain how to better support them and their understanding of English more clearly and personally than this post as been able to articulate.
  • Your player may not understand common sayings that you grew up with- like ‘break a leg’ or semi pro talk ‘fat side’, ‘skinny side’, ‘anchor’ and other sayings. You might have to take the time to go over some of the common ones.

Feel free to get in touch to discuss ideas and chat!

#aflcoaches #FirstNationsAustralians #AboriginalAustralians #Australiacoaches #Aussiecoach #Austrainasportscoach


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