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International Coach's Corner

International Tip

International Tip: ELS English Classes and Nike Camp Programs Give Participants a Competitive Edge

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When Faisal Majid was just ten years old his parents put him on a plane from Japan heading to the U.S. to play basketball at the Nike Pro Sport Basketball Camp at Caldwell University in New Jersey. Faisel fell in love with the Nike camp and returned for six subsequent summers. During each trip Faisal gained valuable lessons in shooting and dribbling, exposure to the English language, and developed life-long friendships with students from around the world. Eight year later, with a solid grasp of English and an ease and familiarity with U.S. cultural norms, he applied to Boston University and was accepted, earning a BA and master's degree before returning to live in Japan. 

Faisal, along with thousands of other student athletes - from countries as diverse as China, Italy, Egypt, Mexico, Mozambique and Haiti come to the Nike Camps each summer and receive training by some of the best college and professional coaches in the country. In addition to the 20 hours of sport training a week, international participants can add 10 hours of ELS English classes each week.  What makes these language classes different from other summer English courses is that the classrooms are the sports fields and the English lessons are centered on a subject matter that they are passionate about - sports.

It turns out that exposing children to a new language in the atmosphere of playing sports is a great way to get a leg up on learning, say Peggy Street, who heads the ELS language programs for the Nike Sports Camps in Miami, which is one of ten ELS and NIke Sports Camps in the U.S.  "Students learning in this setting can accelerate language skills faster than in a traditional school environment," explain Peggy Street. "Because campers have self selected a sport they're interested in - such as basketball, soccer or tennis - they have more in common with one another and are more motivated to communicate in a new language because they're talking with their teammates." 

In countries like Japan, China, South Korea, and Vietnam where English language instruction is mandated school curriculum, the classes are often not effective at getting kids to converse, explains Street.  Street encounters students who have been learning language for years in their native countries, but still don't know the basics of asking a simple question.  "What's helpful about our setting, she says is we're not teaching language in isolation; we're teaching in a context they are passionate about." 

Ken Webb, who heads up the Nike Pro Sport Basketball camp program in New Jersey, and who coached Faisal, watches international kids pick up English every day while interacting on the court. "Basketball is a universal thing, so even if a kid struggles initially with understanding an instruction, we can demonstrate a concept to them, and they they'll pick up the basic phrases while playing with other kids."

The desire to play as a team helps kids become more comfortable speaking a foreign language says, Mehdi Belhassan, who is the Camp Director for the Nike Sport Camp program in Massachusetts and Florida. "When kids from different countries are in the middle of a soccer practice or basketball game, their inhibitions are a lot lower," says Belhassan.  "They're not self-conscious. They are focused on playing.  All of sudden,they realize that they've been talking in English the whole time to their teammates." 

Beyond learning English and improving sport technique, the Nike Camp environment with its rich mix of diverse nationalities, encourages kids to be more accepting of other cultures and of people that don't look exactly like themselves. And in a world that is becoming increasingly divided, this is a special experience.  "It's not an opportunity that people have everyday," shares Belhassan, " to be in an environment where kids from 35 countries representing every ethnic group, multiple religions, various languages can co-exist and enjoy one another. It's really amazing to witness." 

ELS and Nike Sports Camp operate ten locations across the U.S. where international student can improve their English skills and get better at the sports they love.  To find a list of locations and sports offered, or to get detailed camp information, visit the ELS and NIke Sports Camps webpage. 

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