Coming to America

The beauty of sports is that they are universal. Soccer is played in just about every country in the world. Baseball and basketball are growing in international popularity and the number of foreign-born players in American professional sports is increasing. However, there are certain nuances in some sports that can make the transition from a foreign country to America difficult for athletes.

Thiago Gaglianone, a junior soccer player at California Lutheran University from Brazil, said that his biggest challenge was adjusting to the faster pace of American soccer.

“We have a different style of playing in Brazil. We usually hold the ball more and we try to keep the pace slow and work with the team. In the United States, our coach likes to have us run the whole time…I think the mentality of the coach is the biggest difference from Brazil, so I think that would be the hardest challenge,” Gaglianone said.

Along with different styles of play, foreign-born athletes have to overcome language barriers.

“It’s a big switch having to think in [a different] language, so you know what the coach is trying to tell you. It takes a different mindset, you have to think in that language rather than just trying to translate English into that language, so there’s a difficult switch that has to flip there,” said Bruce Gillies, a business professor at CLU who has also worked with professional sports teams in sports psychology.

“In order for me to overcome the language barrier, it was all about time. I think after a couple of months [my English] was good enough to understand everything, but it was still difficult. In Brazil we had some English classes that you would go to for like two hours, but then you spoke Portuguese for the rest of the day. Once I came to America, it was easier because it was English 24/7,” Gaglianone said.

In professional sports, the language barrier issue is no different. Baseball players from Japan often have translators who travel with the team to make communication between coaches and athletes easier.

One example of a foreign athlete having adjustment issues to American professional sports is Yasiel Puig from Cuba.

Puig, a 23-year-old outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, electrified the Dodgers’ season last year as they went 38-8 in Puig’s first 46 games as a Dodger and went from dead last to first in the National League West division.

However, Puig has experienced some growing pains, making mistakes both on and off the field.

In April 2013, according to espn.com, he was charged with reckless driving after going 97 mph in a 50 mph zone. In December 2013, he was arrested for reckless driving after going 110 mph in a 70 mph zone.

Puig was also benched for a game this season for showing up late to batting practice.

While the reckless driving charges were dropped in both cases, there is no doubt that Puig has had trouble adjusting to his new life in the spotlight.

“I think it is a maturity issue more so than it is a cultural issue. I think that a mature athlete or a mature individual will understand that it is not all about themselves, but making sure that they follow the team’s norms and those kind of things. So for [Puig], I think that it is about someone holding him accountable and the coach needs to do that,” Gillies said.

“Not being from here, [Puig] may not know how the game of baseball has been played throughout history as well as guys born and raised in America know,” said junior baseball player Spencer DuBois. “But a lot of it is that he has a lot of talent and that he is really young, and he’s going to be a little hot-headed out there, and that’s where a lot of his mistakes have come from.”

Puig’s youth can explain his mistakes, but it also displays the difficulties that young athletes from other countries have adjusting to American professional sports.

There has been an increase of talented young baseball players from countries such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico being signed to major league teams. It is reasonable to believe that most players have had difficulties similar to Puig’s.

Sports in America are a big deal. Professional athletes are always in the spotlight, which can prove to be difficult for those who are not used to this kind of treatment.

“In Brazil, you don’t have, not even close to, the amount of support and facilities the U.S. provides,” Gaglianone said.

It is expected for young athletes to make mistakes, especially after going through such a drastic change in their lives. However, once the growing pains are over, they can go on to have successful careers. Players like Ichiro Suzuki, Dirk Nowitzki, David Ortiz, Roberto Clemente and many more have benefited from playing professional sports in America after coming from a foreign country.

 

Ramsey Abushahla
Staff Writer
Published April 16, 2014