Scott Roth, a close friend going back to high school, has been the head coach of the Dominican Republic (DR) national team for more than two years. [With Al Horford and Francisco Garcia on the roster, DR recently beat Cuba to earn the bronze at the 2008 FIBA Centrobasket Tournament in Mexico.]
Scott also coached Turkey's national team in the European and World Championships and played internationally (and in the NBA) before getting into coaching with the Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Bucks.
Currently, he's the head coach of the D-League's Bakersfield Jam.
Scott and I talk, text, and email frequently. In one recent email exchange, he mentioned the challenge of coaching players who didn't speak English. With his permission, here's an excerpt from those email exchanges:
"Lucky for me, in most sports, including basketball, terminology is cross cultural and the basic offensive and defensive language is the same in English. Plus, nowadays most international players are speaking 2-3 languages.
For coaches like me who only speak English, the challenge is the daily communication with the players that's necessary to get the most out of them. I've found it to be the biggest hurdle.
In the case of the DR team, a key for me was learning the Spanish buzz words to get my points across. It was also important that what I said was translated correctly, so I used Al Horford or another player who spoke English to help me convey what I needed to get done.
It's interesting that the language barrier didn't make for less communication between me and the guys. It was just the opposite. And since my point guards (both the starter and his backups) spoke no English, is was crucial that I got my points across during practice, because other than during timeouts, the speed of the games made it difficult to communicate with them when they were on the floor.
From a coaching perspective, if I couldn't communicate it, the players couldn't execute it. Communication became the critical link.
Looking back on my playing days overseas and now as a coach, it's clear that communication makes or breaks you as a coach and, at times, as a player. In many cases, it's the differentiator between average coaches and excellent ones.
All players want to be touched daily through communication no matter where they're from or what language they speak. Clear communication helps coaches hold players accountable and share their expectations for them.
More importantly, it holds you just as accountable to them.
Whether you “the player” agree or disagree with your coach is not the point. At least you know where he’s coming from.
As I look back now at the teams I've played on or coached, usually the best players were the best communicators in drills (especially defensively), at practice, in the locker room, and in the games.
The teams that developed the fastest had guys who were excellent communicators and took ownership in their team, both in words and action."