Client Stories

Communication on the football pitch

Sofi Jaku

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Have you ever watched a football match and wondered how players and referees from all over the world communicate with one another? How do referees explain decisions made to players that don’t share the same native language? With EURO 2020 finally here after a year’s delay, we wanted to find the answers.

We had the opportunity to chat with Viktor Kassai, Head of Refereeing Department of the Russian Football Union, who shared the importance of communication for his team of referees and how they are supporting the next generation of referees through an EF language training program.

As the biggest sport in Russia and with approximately 5,000 referees in the country, having the tools to succeed in the highly diverse and international environment of football, is crucial for referees to progress in their career.

“Almost every one of our referees speaks Russian as their native language. However, they are working at the top of the professional football pyramid and today, about 40-60% of the players and coaches are from foreign countries. This has undoubtedly accelerated the need to communicate in a common language, English”.

Referees are expected to take time to do their research and know where a player is from, adapting their language during the game accordingly.

“Although you can’t expect referees to speak all languages, you can certainly count on a referee to be able to have a proficient level of English if they work in international games. And that’s what’s critical for us to achieve. I don’t need my referees to be able to hold a full conversation about cooking, but they must have the tools to comfortably communicate in English in the stressful environment of a football game”.

At the beginning of 2020, the Russian Football Union decided to make English proficiency a priority and started a partnership with EF to train their team. The program in place which has been running for a year focuses on raising the general English level of the referees and then supplementing basic English skills with customized sports and football terminology to ensure referees are developing the most relevant skills. Participants are encouraged to take at least one virtual group lesson per week in addition to self-study time.

“I really like that within weeks, EF adapted their training to our unique needs. Based on the pace our learners can study at and focusing on what we really need to learn which is the football terminology”.

The flexibility of a digital approach was deemed extremely valuable to the RFU even before COVID ruled out face-to-face training; the country is so large that long travel times and time differences between colleagues are common.

“We deal with a team that is spread across a country that has numerous time zones so we required a solution that would work for everyone and that’s exactly what we got from EF. We love the flexibility they provide, not only for our team to fit their learning into busy schedules but they can take their learning literally everywhere, even on the plane when they are traveling to a game”.

Since the start of their English training, outstanding results have been reported with 83% of learners being high performers on track to meet or exceed the learning goals initially set. According to Viktor, having clear communication on the expectations from their employees and the benefits of language proficiency is what motivates his team to dedicate themselves to it.

“For my team, taking part in their English training is as important as their physical and theoretical preparation. It’s not optional but part of their responsibilities. Without it, there’s so far you can get in your career, so the motivation comes from truly understanding the outcomes”.

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