For many Americans, this weekend will consist of at least one football game.
Chances are, however, there are several coworkers in an average office who understand very little of what happened on the gridiron. Alan Headbloom has an idea of how to help bridge the cultural differences in sports and general American culture for people from outside of the United States.
This weekend, Headbloom held “The Ins and Outs of American Football” at Holiday Inn Airport to help teach the cross-cultural implications of football. He expects to host more football seminars, as well as a baseball seminar next spring.
While most of Headbloom’s consulting business is directed toward how to communicate within the business community, he feels sports culture adds a lot to how an office functions. Prior to his move from Midland to West Michigan, Headbloom hosted similar seminars on the east side of the state.
“If someone feels like they don’t fit in, it can tip the balance and people go home to the country they’re from early,” Headbloom said. “It’s just a way to give people an inside view. If you don’t know, you’re always feeling like you’re on the outside.”
Headbloom’s 90-minute sport seminars generally take guests through three various functions of sports. The first part of the seminar looks at the cultural aspects of American football. For Americans, tailgating, cheerleaders and rivalries are all common pieces of life. For visitors from other countries, they seem like strange customs, Headbloom said.
He then discusses the technical aspects of football, chatting about the rules of football, such as scoring and penalties.
“Football and baseball are just weird, technically; cheerleaders, so many funny little rules,” he said. “What I love about soccer, hockey and basketball is you go up and down the (playing surface), and you’re just trying to score. It’s all the same basic idea.”
The third piece of the seminar focuses on the sport slang that has infiltrated the rest of American culture. Headbloom used examples, such as “We’ll punt on this project” and “He’s an armchair quarterback” to demonstrate how a person likely will be clueless as to what the speaker is trying to convey unless one knows football.
The attendees then head to the hotel bar and watch a football game, while Headbloom floats from table to table to discuss what’s happening in the game.
He also encourages attendees to look up Michigan colleges and local high schools to watch games.
“It’s amazing, any Friday night in a local town, people turn out, and it’s cheap,” he said. “You get to watch football, and then they can start to say, ‘Yeah, that’s what a QB sneak is.’”
Dow Chemical is a large client of Headbloom’s from his time in Midland, where he worked with a variety of immigrants and expats from across the globe. His programs range from helping them write better monthly reports and presentations to bridging cultural differences.
Headbloom also hosts a local TV show, “Feel Like You Belong,” which recently focused on American politics. The guest was Theresa Tran, executive director of Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote-Michigan, and the topic was the underrepresentation of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the American voting population.
“They’re fearful or not confident, even though they’re now citizens,” Headbloom said. “After we interviewed her, we did an educational segment on the absolute weirdness and illogical nature of the Electoral College.”
Headbloom also holds seminars to help explain cultural events, such as funerals, to help discuss the etiquette of how to handle a situation, such as the death of a boss’ uncle.
Reverse seminars also are held to help coworkers and bosses understand how strange American culture can seem to other nationalities.
“We do a three-hour seminar to help Americans understand their minds work different than the other mindsets, and the innate human fear of differences and how to overcome that,” Headbloom said. “We have to get used to it, especially at a company where you’re trying to sell to the rest of the world, and 95 percent of the world’s population doesn’t live in America.”