International student faces unique sports struggle

It is common knowledge that being a student athlete is a difficult task.  Balancing life with schoolwork, practices, games, workouts and any other responsibilities an athlete may have can seem daunting, both to those who pursue athletics in college and to those who don’t.

For international students like Zhaoyang “Amber” Wang, this tenuous balance is complicated by the communication struggles inherent to being a non-native English speaker.

Wang joined the Wilkes Women’s Basketball Team for the 2015-2016 season with some experience in the sport.  She played regularly in elementary and middle school in her hometown of Luoyang, Henan in the People’s Republic of China.

Wang has been living in the United States since her high school years in San Francisco.  While her first language is Mandarin, she speaks English fluently and has excellent grades in her communication studies major.

However, she did not anticipate the communication struggle that would come with playing a sport.  Even for native English speakers, sports terminology can be baffling.  For Wang, it was nearly incomprehensible.

“I couldn’t understand what the coach was saying to me,” Wang said.   “He would speak so quickly, using words I wasn’t familiar with.  I felt lost.”

In addition, some of the rules of American basketball differ from Chinese basketball.  Confusion about out-of-bounds and point markers complicated things further.

Many of Wang’s teammates have been playing basketball since a young age. They are intimately familiar with basketball terminology and rules.

Catey McFadden, a sophomore basketball player, is familiar with Wang’s struggles. 

“Amber was having a hard time adapting to the fast pace of a collegiate team.  The language barrier made it more difficult,” she said. “We all helped.  As a team, we worked together to explain rules, terminology and plays to Amber so she could understand.”

The basketball players are a true testament to the meaning of teamwork. They banded together to help teach Wang crucial information about the game and help her improve as a player.

Wang also sought out Head Coach Chris Heery for further explanation after practice. 

“She would come to my office for help, and I would have her write out the plays to help her understand them.  Her biggest struggle was definitely with the terminology,” Heery said.

Heery has been coaching for Wilkes for five years, but Wang is his first international student on the team. 

“She really picked things up quickly. The amount of improvement in just one year is remarkable.  Between her great attitude and sunny personality, she’s been a great addition to the team,” he remarked.

(Above) Wang
(Above) Wang