English skills of The Manu coach assailed?

Coach Fuimaono Titimaea Tafua
This response is in defense of Coach Tafua (and other Samoan sports leaders) whose seeming lack of English proficiency may cost him his job and position as coach of Manu Samoa rugby team. The insinuation and criticism are found in a Savali editorial.  Here’s an excerpt:
As the Prime Minister rightly said, there are many lessons to be learned from this, well, disappointing episode. Here’s [one]:
First lesson, modern rugby is continuing to evolve and we need a coach who can keep up with the evolving joneses [sic] of professional rugby. A coach with good English and speaking proficiency who can communicate well with the players and coaching staff.  It is without doubt that the team will continue to be picked from professional ranks –– largely players born and raised overseas –– who will not have a good grasp of the Samoan language.
First, I agree with the notion that communication is important, and even critical, in any organization - sports or otherwise. However, effective English communication alone - between coaches and players of rugby - cannot and will not win the World Cup for Manu Samoa. It takes knowledge of the game for the coach, and athletic skills and prowess of the players. Coach Tafua may lack a good command of the English language, but the assumption and inference, that such inadequacy contributes to The Manu’s problems, is not only flawed, but also demeaning to Tafua’s character as a coach and as a human being. Again in sports, a coach’s language skills should not be directly linked to the success or failure of a team.

And despite the fact that all the winners of the Rugby World Cup since its inception have been from countries whose predominant language is English, it is still neither a prerequisite nor a guarantee for excellence and/or winning games. The connection is more coincidental than absolute. If anything, the trend seems to favor the countries who have had a long history of playing the game and talent level, not for their English language proficiency. (Though history too is not necessarily a guarantee for dominance as demonstrated by the winners of the Soccer World Cup.)

Rugby has its own “language” - independent of linguistics - which makes winners of most teams. That “language” consists of “words” such as fitness, speed, strength and execution. Oftentimes, our players are found lacking in one or more of these throughout the duration of games. Coaches are often blamed for losing and praised for winning, nonetheless, a coach’s English skills are not and should not be a determinant or cause in either case.

Also, if pre/post game interviews are a concern, then have a translator or a PR/spokesperson do the interviews and let the coach ...uhmmm...coach! I firmly believe that the team management needs to understand that the recruits who “will not have a good grasp of the Samoan language,” should make language concerns the least of their worries and make their skills of the game first and foremost in their minds.

Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interaction between the players and coach(es) during the game (unlike American football and other team sports) so much of the communication referred to by the writer, happens during practices and meetings, hence, no urgency. Therefore the need for good English skills can be resolved and handled through translation and interpretation by an assistant coach or another staff member with English proficiency. And by the way, I believe that Tafua has enough knowledge of English to communicate what the players need to know. It’s not like he’s defending a dissertation. Rugby, after all, is more an art form than a science, as American football is.

And finally, if English proficiency were a defined formula for winning rugby games, let alone the World Cup, then the American Eagles (they speak English too, you know) should certainly be among the Tier One teams; and France will have no right to be in the finals. So once again, let’s not worry about the language skills of the players and coaches; instead, let’s concentrate on the real “language” and fundamentals of rugby.

E a? Ua kau maua mai le ‘auga ma le uke o le makaupu lea e avaku? Ia ga. O le ga e seki a le Igilisi a le coach pau lava o le faakamala o kama ka’aalo ma le leaga ma le faa’au’au o laufali i isi kaimi.

(Read Savali Editorial  here)

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