Foreign athlete popularity growing on D1 rosters

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Taylor Newman

tnewman5@radford.edu

Hola. Hallo. Hei. Hallå. здраво. These are just some of the ways athletes here at Radford say “hello.” All across the nation, international recruits are making up a larger chunk of college athletics and some may wonder if it really is for the better.

College sports have become a melting pot. Coaches all over seize for the sprinters and hurdlers, forwards and goalies, swimmers and divers and any kids with forehands good enough to achieve top ranks worldwide. The importance of winning championships and having cultural diversity has imposed strong pressure to pick the best athletes there are.

In most of the deemed “American” sports such as football, basketball and baseball, the diversity may not be as noticeable in the roster, but in sports like golf, tennis and soccer the college scene is much more international. Most of the foreign importing is done so mid-major schools can stay competitive with the renowned universities who tend to attract the top American recruits. Regardless, the trend is evident everywhere.

“Why they bring so many international kids, I don’t know,” said redshirt senior soccer player James Jordan, from England. “Maybe a lot of the top American recruits get taken so then coaches look to internationals to fill the spots in.”

Over the years, team make-up has become much more united. Especially today in a world where communication technology is much more apparent, coaches have access to players from all over the world with just a click of a button. YouTube, email, and relying on contacts help as resources for coaches to see and hear about potential athletes without having to fly to each country. It is a unique process that involves lots of hard work aside from just gaining access, but in the paperwork and visa/passport side too.

Most countries outside of the U.S. don’t allow for playing a sport while also attaining a college education. It’s either go professional or get an education and miss out on competition. For this reason, many foreign players look to the U.S. as a gateway to do both while earning a scholarship to help pay for it all as a whole

“When I first came here, I didn’t speak any English,” said junior soccer player Bernardo Ulmo, from Brazil. “I could barely say good morning, good afternoon or good night.”

        Some may wonder why coaches would want to deal with the hardships of the language barrier or the thousands of miles away from home battle. The honest truth is, they don’t really have to. The athletes learn English quickly and through the help of professors and other teammates, the process becomes much easier. Like anyone would, internationals learn to adapt to the different culture, while also bringing some new rituals that the team wouldn’t have without them. The men’s soccer team is one of the most prevalent displays of this sensation.

“It’s a very diverse program with players from Norway, Brazil, Scotland, England, Belgium, Korea and Venezuela,” said Head Coach Marc Reeves. “It makes coaching and playing for the team very fun.”

The appearance of different cultures into American universities has been beneficial for domestic student-athletes who are exposed to different world views. The experience also brings unique opportunities for the internationals that they may not have otherwise.

In tennis and soccer, where the pool for the sports holds a deeper root in other countries, coaches are able to recruit high-profile international athletes. The pure-bred international athletes can raise the level of play, create better competition and even the playing field. To be honest, it could get boring playing solely against other Americans, and not many people get to say they competed with or against players from different countries.

Many factors impact the overall recruiting process. Sometimes, type of school, level of program, facilities and location sway outstanding juniors away from attending certain schools. This is where the international pool comes in. If struggling, many coaches will lean to other countries where they can recruit similarly skilled or even better-skilled student-athletes.

“Tennis as a sport is not as big in America as it is in other countries,” said senior tennis player Tomas Dehaen, from Belgium. “It’s a business, so colleges want their teams as good as possible and will recruit from anywhere.”

No matter where the athletes are from, the game and reason for playing are all the same. All play with passion to win. All compete to be the best. All know that with hard work and willpower, anything is possible. For this, the internationals are able to shoo away the home-sick thoughts, for the most part.

“It’s hard after the games when all the American players can call their parents and tell them how they played,” said senior basketball player Ema Reskoska, from Macedonia. “I can’t call anyone because of the time difference.”

With prices rising, getting home for the short breaks is not permissible. Many of the foreigners long for the month-long winter getaway and the summer break that gives them enough time to fully immerse back in their culture. Spending so much time in the states almost “Americanizes” those who aren’t from here. Changes in eating and living habits becomes evident.  In essence, as the foreign athletes transform, the American college athletics environment is changing too.

As teams continue to grow in diversity, it’s important to remember the process is all for the good of competitive nature. As the winning spirit of college athletics continues to intensify, expect to keep seeing athletes from all over the world. Americans and internationals will seize to unite on the Radford athletic teams in hopes of getting the championships for the Highlanders.