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Breaking the language barrier: The story of Justin Veldhuis

get to know the communications coordinator for Atlanta United.

via @justinveldhuis

Justin Veldhuis is known to the Atlanta United fanbase for his occasional cameos on Fox Sports as the translator standing side by side head coach Tata Martino. To English-speaking media members, he’s known as the bridge between our questions and the subsequent answers from Atlanta’s hispanic stars like Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Franco Escobar, Josef Martinez, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, and Tito Villalba.

However, there is so much more to the Communication Coordinator than just his translating duties. Dirty South Soccer’s Haris Kruskic sat down with Veldhuis to better understand the person behind the microphone and how he got to this point.

DSS: Did you grow up speaking Spanish?

Justin Veldhuis: “No. My mom’s family is Italian and my dad’s family is Dutch, but both of them were born and raised in Albany, New York like I was. My first introduction to Spanish was in grade school and I took it all throughout high school.

I went to Elon University as an undergrad and studied journalism and international relations. Then, I studied abroad in Madrid for a semester my junior year and that’s really where I was introduced to Spanish. I took it all through school, but then I realized when I landed in Madrid that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. I pretty much learned Spanish there.

I lived with a host family and obviously had classes with a lot of Spanish-speaking students. I loved it. I loved meeting new people. I didn’t want to have a tendency to hang out with other Americans. I made an effort to hang out with as many Spanish friends as I could and get to know the language and the culture. That’s the best way to learn a language. Yes, you need to learn some of the grammar, but being a good listener, observing, and talking about random things goes a long way. The more time you spend around a language, the better you naturally get at picking things up.

I went back to Elon for my senior year, wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I graduated, and went back to Spain for another two years of college and taught English while I was there. When I came back stateside, I went to graduate school at the University of Central Florida and got an MBA in Sport Business Management.”

Did you always want a career in soccer?

“I always wanted a career in sports. I’ve thought about a lot of different things over the years, but basketball and soccer were always my favorite sports. When I was in grad school, I interned with Copa America the summer that it was here in 2016. After that, I interned with Orlando City for a semester. As I was graduating, this opportunity with Atlanta came up and I took it. Part of what attracted me to want to come and work for this club was the ambition and plan everyone here had for Atlanta United. You could tell things were going to be done the right way. They wanted to be an exciting club. It’s been great to be part of that.

I’ve always loved soccer. I played it growing up. This job is the way I still get to be a part of it.”

How was your time with Orlando City? Was it awkward being back there a couple weeks ago?

“No, it’s actually one of the games I look forward to the most because I know so many people there. I was joking around that I know too many people there to lose, so it’s good that we got a win.

I met some good people who I’m still friends with. I learned a lot from the people in their communications department, so I really just tried to soak up as much as I could while I was there and be as helpful as I could. That was my first introduction to public relations in sports.”

What are your day-to-day duties?

I work with Atlanta’s communications department. Obviously I translate for the players and Martino and I knew that was going to be a big part of my role when I started, but it’s only one of the things I do. I also help with coordinating the interviews, whether it’s with players at training sessions during the week or if it’s more of a feature story with national or international media. Lastly, I work on game notes, press releases, and updated statistics which we give out to the media before the matches begin.

Obviously though, a big part of my job is being the link between media and Spanish-speaking players.

Has it been weird having those cameos on Fox Sports?

“I never expected to get on camera as much as I have to be honest. It’s fine. I just try not to mess up and look like an idiot as much as I can. That’s all you can really ask for.”

How did you get into translating? Is it hard to translate for anyone in particular?

“I had never translated before I took this job. I knew Spanish, but I never had to translate officially. The hard part is that I’m doing four or five things at once. You have to listen very carefully, make sure you understand everything the person is saying while at the same time translating it in your own head, and thinking ‘Ok, now how do I say this in English?’. While doing that, you have to keep listening so you’re not missing any part of the quote, remember the order everything was said, and finally deliver it clearly to a room full of media. It’s not easy.

To make it a little more difficult, every country speaks a different brand of Spanish. The coaches and players have different ways of saying things and a different slang, and it’s all a different Spanish than what I learned in Madrid. That was a challenge in the beginning.

Translating for Martino has gotten a lot easier though. He’s a really well-spoken person. He’s really articulate and a good speaker. Sometimes when he goes on for a few minutes, I do my best to summarize. The hardest part of translating for him is that he speaks very formally. I try to get it right because whatever I say is probably what he’s going to get quoted for.

Almiron is great because he gives me time to respond. He’ll say something, look at me, allow me to interrupt him so I can translate what he’s already said, and then continue. Martino’s probably the worst at that. At press conferences, he’ll look at me and without saying anything admit that he just said a lot without stopping.

What are your future aspirations?

“I can’t really give a specific answer. I just want to be in a job that I can enjoy. I do like working in sports. If I’m able to use my experiences as best as I can and travel a bit, that’s really all I’m thinking about now.”