Quarterbacking Competence: 5 Keys to Success in an International Environment

Credit: Marc Schwarz Photo

The position of Quarterback is the most magnified and influencing position in all of sports. In the sport of American Football, the quarterback acts as the overall leader of the team on the field along with being the team-manager off the field. The quarterback is responsible for success when the team is winning, along with shouldering the blame when the team is losing. It is a high-pressure position that comes with tremendous highs and lows. The corporate world is no different. Managers and Quarterbacks are very much alike.

In business terms, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, the term quarterbacking means the act of managing, controlling or organizing something. It is key that leaders of a team/business are able to manage and control their team chemistry and environment. This process becomes magnified further when working with people from all different backgrounds and beliefs.

As a former Professional Quarterback in the USA, Poland, France, Germany, Italy and Austria, I was able to adapt and successfully lead men of all backgrounds despite age, cultural and language barriers. However, this is one of the beauties of professional sports. We set aside our differences and beliefs for a common cause. Nevertheless, issues within can and do occur. People at the top of the organization must know how to put their teams in the best position to avoid any of these potential conflicts when it comes to working within an international team.

1. Understanding & Acceptance
It is important to understand the people one is playing/working with. A good leader understands the skill set of each member and uses those skills to help make their organization better. Understanding the various backgrounds of each member is also a key component in building intercultural competence. When one is able to be a good listener and show understanding, they will develop the respect of their fellow teammates/players. All athletes strive to be respected by their fellow peers. Understanding people within your organization can go a long way in earning respect.

In an international atmosphere, it is also important to accept that there will be differences. People from other countries are raised in an entirely different culture, language, mentality than one may be used to. However, in the world of sports and business, there is a bottom line. Winning. When teams win, they thrive. It is important to put aside personal beliefs and issues outside of sports and focus on the aspects of building a winning team. If one is able to bring in players that fit what they are trying to accomplish on the field, they should be accepted with open arms.

2. Credibility
All athletes want to be led and coached by people with a track record of success. It is important for teams and organizations to put people in charge who have the drive and potential to get the job done. Experience surly helps, however do not be afraid of youth or lack of practical experience when that person clearly possesses the necessary skills and drive to get the job done. Opportunity is what leads to greatness. The bottom line is that elite athletes only care if that said coach or leader can make them a better player. If that person has the credibility and respect of his/her fellow peers, regardless of age, then the athletes will be more likely to buy into the culture around them.

3. Swiss-Army Leaders
This is a term I have developed based on being a diverse and adaptable leader. Just as a Swiss-Army Knife has many tools to accomplish various tasks, an effective leader must be able to adapt their leadership tactic in order to fit all situations and personalities. Your team/business needs to have great leaders to set the example.

Part of being a great leader is understanding that some people react differently to the same style of leadership. For example, maybe you have a player/employee coming from an Eastern European background. Typically, these people are raised on toughness and being pushed to their limits in order to reach their full potential. In this case, you can lead in a more demanding way. While in contrast, maybe you have a player from South Italy, where the environment is more laid back and relaxed. It would be unlikely that a demanding leadership style would work in this case. Therefore, one may have to take a more encouraging form of leadership until they adjust to the culture of the team and/or business.

It is also important to have a mindset geared towards what your team/business is trying to achieve. This will help one identify the type of people that fit the system and will help ease the transition into that specific environment.

4. Trusting Relationships
Any retired athlete will tell you that the thing they miss most about sports is the relationships and bonds that are built with their teammates and coaches. This could be a bit more challenging in an international environment due to language and cultural differences, however, that is why the idea of relationship-building needs to be emphasized even more.

It is important for leaders to organize team events and get-togethers in order to help create a bond of team chemistry. The overall goal is to build a comfortable working environment where players and coaches trust each other no matter the circumstances. A lot of time athletes and coaches may be facing criticism from fans or media and they need to have each other to lean on for support during times when outside sources are trying to pull them apart.

5. Selflessness
Any successful team/organization has a collective goal in mind. Yes, all people have egos and want to have good statistics and personal success. However, too much of this attitude can destroy a team in the long run. It is important to develop an atmosphere centered on the team. Despite the intercultural differences, when athletes step onto the field, they rely on the skills and abilities of each other.

When playing a certain sport, there is not intercultural difference. That particular sport is played the same way all over the world. It is important for players to have a “WE” and not an “I” mentality. If the leaders are able to create a culture of talent centered around being selfless, that is the recipe for success.

Three Effective Ways to Enhance Your Language Learning: Both Abroad and at Home

All of us at one point or another have taken part in some sort of foreign language course. Most of us did this somewhat reluctantly in high-school or college. However, as I have grown older and began my international journey, I realized just how important and necessary learning a second language is. We are now living in a time where the world is more of a melting pot than it has ever been. Therefore, the likelihood that you will come across people who speak languages other than English is also higher than ever. That being said, the benefits of learning one or multiple foreign languages are more than you may realize, not only for your intercultural experiences but also for your personal growth.

I have come to realize that trying to learn a new language is like going to the gym. Think about that time in your life when you decided to start working out. Maybe you started going to the gym 2-3 times a week along with adjusting your diet to consume more protein, vegetables and less sugar. It is likely when a person commits to this lifestyle that they will experience great initial results. However, as time goes on their results will level-off. In the fitness world, this is known as the plateau effect. In order to break through the plateau, one must decide to alter and/or do more hat they had previously been doing. Go to the gym 3-4 times a week and maybe cut out all beverages besides water. My point is that language learning takes on the same idea. At first, it may seem rather easy-going and fun as you learn and withhold a lot of useful vocabulary necessary for basic interaction, but there will come a point when you must go the extra mile and sacrifice time and often put yourself in uncomfortable situations to break through that plateau. This often is not easy. I have also struggled with this concept. However, through that struggle, I was able to experience growth in my language capabilities. Therefore, I have come up with three unique ways to enhance my language learning and breakthrough my plateaus. I will start by saying that the best way to truly learn a foreign language is to live in the country which speaks the language you are learning. That being said, I know that’s not a possible solution for most people. That being said, I will include options for both people living in abroad and also people learning from their home countries.

Abroad: Find a Group of Friends who aren’t speaking English
I have noticed to be one of the best techniques to truly indulging yourself in a language. When you have a group of friends who are speaking the foreign language you are trying to learn, you can use this as a great opportunity to pick up on vocabulary and learn how the language is spoken amongst the natives. It is important that you also ask questions when you do not understand a word or a phrase so that next time you will likely be able to identify the meaning. Then it is also important to interact with this group of friends and try to speak with them. This may be a bit embarrassing and uncomfortable at first, but it is a necessary step that must be taken to enhance your speaking ability. Don’t worry about mistakes because you will make them, and if these people are truly your friends they will appreciate your efforts and try to help you.

Home: Find a Group or Take a Course
Nowadays, there are so many chances to learn a foreign language and interact with people trying to learn as well. Therefore, you can search for courses within the various language schools in your area. This is often a bit expensive, but at least you will have a few hours a week strictly dedicated to that foreign language. Often, people can find small groups who meet a few times a week to speak and/or together.

Abroad: Avoid Your Comfort Zone
I cannot emphasize the importance of not resorting to English. This is way easier said than done because naturally when we are in a position of discomfort, we automatically tend to resort back to our comfort zone. In this case, speaking English. This is the number one way to set yourself back. You must try your best to avoid using English. I will give you an example of this. During my time in Austria, there have often been times where I started a conversation with someone in German only to hit a point where I did not know how to continue the conversation in German. At this point, I switched to English and we never got back to speaking German. Then the next time I saw that person again the conversation naturally began in English rather than German. My point is, if you are constantly reverting to English, people will also realize that and begin to speak strictly English with you. This is often a difficult step in your language learning process because depending on where you are located, often when the natives realize that you are a foreigner, they will automatically change the conversation to English. This, at least for me, can be very frustrating. That’s why it’s important to not respond to them in English when they try to convert the conversation. Stay strong and do your best to let them know that you want to try and speak their language.

Home: Designate Time in Your Day for Audio/ Video Learning
When living in the country of your native language it is not possible to interact with people in a foreign language. The next best option is finding a quiet place and watch movies, listen to music, podcasts and so on. What I found effective was to have a vocabulary book where you can write down the words you hear and you don’t understand. Then from there, you can translate those words in your mother language while also writing a sentence with the specific term or word in the same book. Then you can say this sentence aloud a few times. Start with ten new words a day along with the sentences and hopefully as time goes on you increase that number. Another option that you can implement is listening to podcasts and or music while you are in your car / working out. This may be difficult until you develop an understanding of standard vocabulary however, hearing the language is a big part of eventually developing a better understanding of it.

Abroad: Speak to Kids
The trick to picking up on and improving your language abilities is to always remain curious and motivated to improve on what you do not know. Staying curious is your key to growth as a foreign language speaker. We have adopted the mentality of a child when learning a new language because we are a child as far as our speaking abilities in whatever language we are trying to learn. Just as a child is always learning/experimenting with new things, we must develop this same sort of mindset to improve. That being said, I have found that the best way to learn some of the basics in a foreign language was to speak with children. I was fortunate enough to have a job as a sports teacher for elementary level students during my time in Italy and Austria. This time helped me as far as my interaction and usage of the language. Understandably, attempting to speak with adults may be intimidating however, speaking with children may be more of a comfortable task at least at the start.

Home: Read Children’s Books/ Watch Children’s Shows
As ridicules as this may sound, we have to remember that at the start we are essentially an infant in our foreign language/country as far as speaking ability, therefore we must not feel embarrassed to start from square 1. Children’s themed books and shows can go a long way in helping us develop a basic vocabulary to which we can then use to advance on into higher levels of our language learning.

When Language is a Barrier: Top 3 Strategies for Making Connections in a Foreign Country

As a young 20-year-old college student, the last thing I thought I would ever do was to play American football professionally in Europe. I originally hoped it would simply be a cool experience that I could tell my friend and family about. However, it ended up becoming a long-term life change. In a seven-year time frame, I went from being an American teen who couldn’t pinpoint a European country on a map, to an Italian Citizen who has lived in 5 European countries and speaks 2 foreign languages (Italian/German). Along my journey, I have had the pleasure to meet amazing and interesting people while also being able to work and lead them in a variety of roles. These experiences have taught me valuable lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything. However, it surely wasn’t and still isn’t easy to network and build relationships with people from other countries. This is due to a variety of reasons depending on what country you are in. For myself, my European trek started in South Italy (Naples). I emphasize South Italy because there are differences both economically, socially, mentality and linguistically between North and South Italy. I will never forget the winter of 2015 when I committed to try and build a life in Italy. From my experiences abroad, Italy was undoubtedly the country where I experienced the most challenging language barriers. Despite the normal daily struggles, I developed somewhat of a method and strategy to connect with the Italian people along with building a solid network. Here are my top 3 strategies for making connections when language is a barrier:

Strategy 1: Observe, Understand, and Try
The first step in any relationship is to show that it is not about you. No substitute or course will teach you more than traveling to and interacting with the people of the foreign country you are trying to make connections with. This is true for any relationship in any country. However, I believe it is magnified when you are working with foreigners speaking a different language. Let’s first look at the term observe. By observe I mean the body language of the people. It is amazing how much we can learn about a person from the mannerisms and facial expressions. This requires no knowledge of the foreign language because body language is universal. If we can determine the mood, attitude of this person based on what we observe, we can have an idea of how to initiate a conversation in the most effective way possible. The next term is understanding. By this, I mean both language and tone of voice. Your initial verbal communication will likely begin in English so we must remember and understand that just like speaking a foreign language would be nerve-racking for us, it is also the same effect for the people we are speaking to. Therefore, we must understand the discomfort that this person is likely experiencing and do our best to make them feel comfortable and confident. This could be as simple as complimenting them on their English-speaking skills or apologizing to them for not speaking their native language while letting them know that you are trying to learn their language as well. Simple comments such as these show that you appreciate that person and their efforts. This can go a long way. The third term is trying. By trying I mean two things. First, we must make an effort to speak slowly and clearly. Remember that this person likely is not used to hearing the English language daily so we need to focus on speaking with clarity. I am not suggesting enunciating each word too slowly because this can sometimes be disrespectful, however, a clear tone with precise grammar usage will go a long way. The second part is trying to speak their language, even if that means just a few basic words. From my early experiences in Italy, I would always search for some basic terms in Italian that I could potentially use in whatever meeting I was having. This may be uncomfortable at first, but it will lighten the mood and ease some tension with a few laughs among each other. This is a very easy way to earn some initial respect and appreciation.

Strategy 2: Be Selfless, Ask, Encourage
This strategy deals with a potential second meeting and/or after you have developed an initial connection with an individual. Most importantly we must show our interest not only in that person’s country but also in the story specific to that individual. This means being selfless and making the conversation more about that person than ourselves. This is a successful strategy for any type of meeting but especially a meeting with a person from a different country. It is amazing to hear some of the stories that some people have to tell, and you will certainly learn a lot and become inspired and appreciative of the various obstacles that some people had to endure to get where they are. This is another way to become more appreciative of your situation. So it is a win-win. Going along with being selfless is the term asking. By asking, I mean raising up questions beforehand that will help the conversation flow. Some example questions I have used are: What is the best part about living in Italy? How did you get to where you are today? What do you like/don’t like about Italy and/or the USA? What for you is important in your life? How can we help each other both in improving our language skills? What are some ways in which you feel the Italian people are different from others in the world? If you look at these questions, they all have one thing in common, they involve deep and interactive conversation. These are the type of conversations where you will truly learn about that person and what makes them tick. I have come to learn that these types of discussions can aid in developing mutual respect for one another. Another important exercise is to encourage. After asking questions we need to encourage that person positively. I will give you a common example I experienced in Naples. Many times, during the first conversation I sensed that person was nervous about having a deep conversation with a native English speaker, they might even say something like “I am sorry my English is so bad”. In this case, it is important to encourage that person and let them know that their English is not as bad as they assume and that you as a foreigner are likely much less experienced communicating in their language but you are trying. A comment like this shows that you are a humble person who is non-judgmental and pleasurable to be around.

Strategy 3: Be Open, Adapt, Embrace
This third strategy is the most effective and important for building and maintaining international relationships. Start by being open. This can sound like somewhat of a general term, but it means to be accessible to any opportunity that you are presented with. You will find that foreigners will go out of their way to show you the history and various interesting aspects of their culture and city. We must be accepting of what they have to offer without making complaints or refusing to participate. This was especially common in South Italy, refusing an invite is considered very disrespectful. This means that we need to make a conscious effort to step out of our comfort zone. The second is adapting, this is more of a specific term for people who are living in a foreign country for an extended period. The bottom line is that when we live in another country we have to live by their rules and their cultures. Adaption to the culture in the country you are living in is absolutely a must. This may take a bit of time at first as you learn the way of the ropes and slowly drift away from the way of life you had in your native country. However, this is often easier said than done. Naturally, foreigners tend to be biased to their homeland, therefore you may begin to nitpick at the things that you feel the people do strange while questioning why the people act, eat, talk the way they do. Nevertheless, I have discovered that like anything else in life it all comes down to your true motives and what you want to do. If you truly commit to the adaption process, which includes learning the language as well as embracing the culture, you will find a way to do it. Humans have adapted since the beginning of our existence. So, the important thing to keep in mind is that adapting is not only possible but necessary if you prioritize and make it something you genuinely want to do. This leads to the last term which is to embrace. I have learned to truly enjoy connecting with others abroad we must embrace and appreciate the entire experience and opportunity. We now live in a time where travel traveling the world is as easy as hopping on a plane and communication with people from all over the world is easier than ever. We have apps where you can learn a language, instant online translators where we can communicate with anyone via text. We no longer are limited to the language in which we were born and raised. We must do our best to take advantage of these realities and resources that we have available to us today. As a linguist learner, I encourage you to not limit yourself or let others limit you. Understand that language is a barrier only if you allow it to be. If you truly embrace change and difference, you will soon discover that making connections will leaning a new language is far more an opportunity than a barrier.


Top 3 Reasons Why Age Is Just a Number (Now More Than Ever)

In the year 2020, age is truly just a number. Our ever-changing world has transformed this somewhat questionable cliche into an unquestioned reality. As we look back at life 20 years ago there are very little comparisons to reference. Yet, we as a society continue to look at our past as a guide for our future endeavors. I am not saying that the past can’t teach us valuable life lessons. I am simply saying that life in 2020 contains important aspects that simply weren’t available to us as we were growing up. Therefore, what does this all mean? It means that the playing field has been leveled among all walks of life. Age and experience are no longer held with such high regard. This is likely a tough pill to swallow for most. However, the reality is, what we once learned and considered valuable is quickly becoming outdated and in many cases, rather useless. As hard as it may be for some to admit, these are the facts. It is up to each individual to decide whether they want to adjust and succeed in the future or remain stubborn and ignorant to change therefore, being left behind.

1) Rapid Technological Advancements:

Technology is changing the world for better or worse. From business interactions to everyday life, there is no doubt that it has taken over. We as a society religiously use smartphones, various social media platforms, video technology, and the internet to essentially “run” our daily lives. As soon as we think that technology has hit its peak, we are suddenly proved wrong. That means that those who refuse to embrace this new technology will soon be left behind. Call it what you want, this technology is here to stay. We can sit there and call out its flaws and how it is destroying the morality of society. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t matter what we think. Whether we like it or not, technology will only continue to develop and play a larger role in both our work and social lives. This means that past experiences that predate today’s technology boom simply don’t mean that much anymore. We are in a new era with new rules and we have to treat it as such.

2) Experience Carries Less Weight

What was once (and even still) considered the golden rule for acquiring a quality job, past experience is becoming more and more irrelevant. Young people fresh out of college are often turned down by various companies due to their so-called, “lack of experience.” While this may still be a logical excuse for some fields, the companies who continue with this methodology will be the ones who suffer as time goes on. As young people grow-up in this technological boom, they are the ones who are actually more capable than most current, tenured employees. This is where the egos come into play and understandably so. Basically, these companies have had a lot of success doing things the same way for a long time. Therefore, many are hesitant to change, adapt and admit that the old way is no longer the most effective one. The bottom line is, youth is no longer a disadvantage but a great advantage. It is only a matter to time until this is fully realized in the corporate world.

3) Effective Leadership is Being Redefined

Without credibility effective leadership is practically impossible. In most fields, age and tenure are considered pre-requisites for acquiring a leadership position. However, as time goes on and our world continues to change, this past experience is becoming less and less relevant to modern-day life. As people’s personalities and motives continue to change, effective leaders must adapt in accordance with these changes. Effective leaders in 2020 and beyond must contain a diverse array of social skills along with a solid personal foundation and most importantly, the willingness to adapt to the modern-day norms. Those who refuse or fail to adapt will have a very hard time earning respect and maintaining credibility as our world continues to diversify. Now more than ever, the playing field is even regardless of age or experience. Age is truly just a number…Now more than ever.

Prisoner to Education: 5 Reasons for the USA’S Student Loan Crisis

Like most democratic countries in the world, it is true that the United States of America is a “Land of Opportunity.” However, when it comes to education, the US system can be seen as extremely controversial and in question amongst young Americans. Most people have been told at a young age about the necessity of a college degree in order to have any kind of future success. However, most educators never seem to mention the cost and financial burden that this degree will come with. Most of them tend to underestimate the reality that young Americans are faced with after graduating and dealing with student loan debt. The somewhat astounding fact is that this seems to be solely an American issue. When we look at the other countries in the world, especially in Europe, many countries offer very low-cost or even free public university tuition. This goes to show that there is a real problem with the American methodology of education. If these other countries can educate their youth at such a low cost, why can’t America follow suit?


1) A Flawed System
A huge problem within the school system is that it fails to teach students about how to handle and invest their finances. Most students who graduate from high-school and college are lacking the necessary knowledge in order to help them build financial stability. Unfortunately, the current school system also remains very old-fashioned and outdated. It fails to educate students in regard to the new age of technology in which we are living in. As technology has grown over the years, the education system has remained relatively the same. Therefore, it fails to educate students about the new possibilities that technology has brought to the table as far as earning a stable income.

The schools also lack the teaching of so-called “life skills”. We all know that the majority of information we learn in the classroom will rarely be applied to the real world. While the system does teach students about the idea of developing discipline and organizational skills, the overall content being taught often at times is not applicable to adulthood and becoming financially successful (which is the goal of most people). In hindsight, one can theoretically believe that the American educational system simply doesn’t want young people to have financial freedom when they are in their 20s and 30s. Therefore, intentionally or not, the system sets students up to financially fail as young adults due to the lack of applicable financial knowledge.


2) “The Great Recession”
According to Jillian Berman of MarketWatch:

“The Great Recession helped push student debt passed 1.5 trillion dollars, up from about 671 billion at the beginning of 2008, According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Data.”

This is just an insane number for any type of expense let alone pursuing one’s right to a quality education. When we look back at the 2008 recession, we can see somewhat of a Domino-Effect. Basically, what stems for any type of recession is a lack of employment opportunities within the market. During this time students were often unable to find reliable jobs to assist with the funding of their student loans during their studies. As a result, students were being (and continue) to be told by their elders that they need to go back to school to become better qualified and marketable. Long story short, this creates even more loan debt from the rise in enrollment and student loan usage.


3) “For-Profit” Colleges
For-Profit Colleges are exactly what their name says they are. They are out to benefit from the increase in student enrollment by offering students degrees that are essentially worth little to nothing in the eyes of employers. So, what most of them do is form some ridiculous name like “The Western Hemisphere University of Sciences” (hypothetically speaking, excuse my humor) and use the power of Facebook ads and other social media outlets to lure students into thinking they are receiving an accredited degree via online. However, since these degrees do not hold the same respect within the already reeling job market and this leads to more and more additional debt.


4) Poor Decision Making
As an old adage says, “Do what you love and forget the rest.” Sure, this may be partially true in the sense that people should want to work in a field that they enjoy. However, too many students are majoring in fields that simply have little to no market. Instead of making educational decisions based solely on oneself and their interests, students need to reverse-engineer this idea by looking at what the market is demanding and how their interests, skills, and abilities can be translated into those fields. As it turns out, the lack of marketable and valuable degrees played a big role in this crisis.


5) Economic Effect and Global Awareness
The lyrics from the hit song Bittersweet Symphony state, “Try to make ends meet, you’re a slave too money then you die.” Young Americans are experiencing this reality now more than ever. In a way, they are trapped in “Debt-Hell” for lack of a better term. What most fail to realize is that this crisis is damaging the American Economy as a whole. The housing market and auto industry are prime examples. Most early graduates don’t have the financial ability to take on mortgages or car payments on top of their monthly student loan bills. In turn, this creates a decrease in cash flow within these industries.

So, going back to the original question… Why is this type of crisis only existent in the United States? I wish I had an answer to that question. However, it is important for citizens outside of the US to understand the amount Americans are paying for their education. Does paying up to 300-400 dollars every month for the next 20-30 years, while also trying to build a life and a career really sound like the Land of Opportunity? America is or (once was) a great country depending on how you choose to look at it. However, I believe that the “Land of Opportunity” phrase has long been outdated considering America’s current price on post-secondary education. It is important for Europeans and those abroad to appreciate the fact that they do not have to experience this degree of debt at such a young age. It is also important to realize that the glory American colleges receive in movies and on television is simply a façade. While yes, college may be a fun and enjoyable experience, the cost students pay for those four years is not worth the next 20-30 years of financial burden and stress.


Financial Prisoners:
The word “Prisoner” has a few definitions. These range from a person who has been put behind bars for committing a crime, to a person who simply feels confined or trapped by a situation. Nevertheless, both situations define a prisoner. Society tends to cringe at the idea of this word. We tend to view a prisoner as someone who has drastically failed in their life. A prisoner is someone who is hopeless and has had all the freedom taken away from them. When you really think about it, America is punishing and financially imprisoning young Americans because they are exercising their right to a quality education. That alone sounds like a crime in itself. Unfortunately, what it really boils down to is that young educated Americans are trapped. While it may not be the same as officially being behind bars, it sure feels like a prison with no escape plan.