4 sports translation mistakes
action sports brands make – and how to fix them

Martina Russo, CEO & founder

24 February 2020

Most outdoor brands need their marketing and ecommerce content translated to sell their products and engage their communities across the globe. But sports translations comes with its challenges.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the most common sports translation mistakes action sports brands make, and what you should do to fix them.


The action sports market: a quick overview

It’s no secret that the sports industry generates billions in annual revenues worldwide.

According to a recent market report by, the sports market reached a global value of nearly USD 488.5 billion in 2018, and is expected to grow to nearly USD 614.1 billion by 2022.

While these figures refer to the entire sports industry, we also know that action and extreme sports are increasingly growing in popularity.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you work within the action sports industry and need no intros. If you’re just snooping around, here’s a quick heads-up on what action (or adventure) sports are all about:


Action Sports is a term used to encapsulate a group of individual sports on a continuum from leisure to adrenaline pulsating, such as BMX, snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing, MTB, skiing, wakeboarding, motocross, and any sport that derived from the core, which could include wakesurfing or stand-up paddling.

Urban Dictionary

Sports vs action sports: Different markets

One important distinction to make when we look at trends in the sports industry is the difference between spectator and participatory sports.

Typically, in extreme sports we see a higher number of people who practice the sports, rather than watch athletes perform their favorite sport on TV.

Think about your friends: How many will stream a YouTube video of a climber ascending an epic 8c+ sport route, but have never been on rock themselves? The chance is – next to none.

And how many enjoy spending their Saturday afternoon watching the League, but don’t play football in their spare time? Probably most.

The target market for action sports brands is completely different from mainstream sports’ consumers. The action sports brand’s target audience seeks the thrill of adventure and adrenaline first-hand, whenever and however they can.

As Extreme puts it:

Adventure Sports and Extreme Sports – also called Action Sports – are not like mainstream sports. They are crawling with rebels, riders, drivers and rock stars. It’s not about uniforms, coaches or scripts. Expressing yourself through action is the key, it’s an attitude, a way of life, even a religion. Once you’re in, you’re in for life.

Action sports: a spike in popularity

According to Extreme, a marketing and media agency for action sports brands, extreme and adventure sports are growing rapidly in contrast to most traditional sports.

For example, in the last 20 years participation in skateboarding has surged 49% and snowboarding is up by 51%, while basketball participation has decreased by 17%.

At the upcoming Olympic Games – Tokyo 2020action sports will be in the spotlight like never before, as they account for 3 out of the 5 new disciplines: Rock climbing, surfing, and skateboarding.


Sports translation in the outdoor industry: how most brands do it

Action sports brands have a global reach and an international customer base.

They often sponsor athletes in different countries across the world, so they can grow and engage with sports enthusiasts near and far, regardless of the language they speak.

Here at The Action Sports Translator we specialize in sports translation services for brands in the adventure sports and outdoor industry. So we constantly watch these trends and are deeply immersed in the culture.

We’ve been working with clients big and small to help them sell their products abroad and grow their foreign-speaking communities.

And we’ve learnt a thing or two about how most extreme sports brands tackle their sports translation needs.

Typically, they:

  • work with a translation service provider who doesn’t specialize in sports translation
  • assign all their sports translation tasks to in-house employees
  • use machine translation
  • don’t translate their content at all.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.


1. Your action sports or outdoor brand hires a generalist translation agency

We’re not here to speak ill of anyone, but let’s be honest: most generalist translation agencies are, well, generalist: by focusing on several industries – like the legal, financial or corporate sectors – they likely won’t be able to provide a truly specialized sports translation service for the adventure sports sector.

Generalist translators don’t know what it feels like to clip the chains on the sport climbing route you’ve been projecting for a week, or to ride the perfect wave – in other words, they don’t really understand your customers, your market or your culture.

And your customers will be able to tell. 

Real-life case study: We started providing our sports translation service to an outdoor tech platform, that lets users log their climbing achievements and share them with the world. They had previously been working with a generalist translation agency to help them make their content available globally and grow.

90% of the terminology hadn’t been translated correctly, and the register (tone of voice) was far too formal for their target users.

Not only was the text not appealing; it could have potentially lead to serious accidents in real life.

In other words, these translations were hurting the business’ image and bottom line.

We were able to quickly turn things around by assigning the project to one of our qualified sports translators who practices climbing first-hand, and is therefore familiar with the terminology.

"It is difficult to find good linguists who also have a love and understanding of the outdoor industry, and The Action Sports Translator is the perfect combination of both. They are also a flexible and reactive team, always happy to help and work hard to come to the perfect solution. Would definitely recommend!"
Celia C., Translation Coordinator @ Patagonia

2. Your action sports or outdoor brand assigns translation tasks internally.

We’ve seen this happen over and over again.

Your brand has a few employees who speak one or two foreign languages and assigns translation tasks internally.

When it comes to making internal small-scale communications (like emails) intelligible to distributors and retailers abroad, or to employees from an office based in another country, it can work.

But when it comes to translating marketing material, websites, apps, landing pages, product sheets and more, you’re bound to run into problems:

Problem #1:

Most likely, translations will be carried out by non-native speakers. And your customers will be able to tell.

Problem #2:

Your in-house employees have a good grasp of all the terminology related to your sport and brand, but they lack technical, marketing and creative translation skills.

Why does it matter? Because it takes a translator (with academic qualifications) several years to truly master the fine art of converting words, ideas, concepts and meanings between two languages. The proof is in the pudding: most of our client complain that the sports translation done internally are inefficient and of subpar quality.

Here at The Action Sports Translator we have several decades of combined sports translation experience, and we know the difference between sports translations that enhance your brand’s reputation, connect with your community and sell your products… and those that won’t.

Problem #3:

Your in-house employees have their own work to take care of. Having to spend some of that time to translation – instead of focusing on what they do best – will affect their productivity and take away from other parts of your business that won’t be able to run themselves.


Problem #4:

Your employees or in-house staff can’t cope with the amount of content you’re producing in your local language.

Your employees (who are already taking time off their main tasks to do translations, which probably take even longer than they should, because they aren’t native speakers and don’t have the necessary trained translation skill and tools…) struggle to keep up with it all.

As a result, your website is only partially translated and your visitors end up more confused than ever.

Real-life case study: We were approached by a company that makes specific safety tools for sports enthusiasts and athletes.

The original content was translated into English by an in-house non-native speaker, resulting in a text that was riddled with mistakes of grammatical and stylistic nature – making it hard for the target audience to grasp. A wrong or unclear interpretation could easily result in a fatal accident.

We revised all the content and made sure it was safety-compliant, also helping the company enhance its products perceived value.


3. Your action sports or outdoor brand uses machine translation

We don’t really want to sound cliché but using machine translation on your website is a bad idea.

There are some applications and uses you could get away with, provided you work with a professional to edit the copy first. For example: long and repetitive product descriptions and item lists that are meant to be used internally.

Blog posts, marketing collaterals, website copy? No.

At best you risk driving your costumers away and looking sloppy in front of your international audience. At worst, your text is likely to make no sense and even offend your public.

Real-life case study: One of our clients manufacturers and sells everyday accessories for action and extreme sports enthusiasts. Their target audience are young, cool, irreverent people who like adventure and being on top of current fashion trends.

They set up a website and thought that letting the Google translation plug-in make their content available to overseas customers in one click was a good idea.

But Google (and other machine translation engines) can’t understand context. In the action sports industry in particular, you really need to navigate your way through a lot of that (think of all the slang and jargon we use on a daily basis).

As a result, most of the translated website copy was nonsensical, while a good chunk of it (product names and marketing taglines) was rendered with the most vulgar words you can imagine. Not to mention how CTAs were completely butchered.

The brand’s image was damaged, and its mission / marketing message was completely lost in translation.

We proposed human-powered creative translations to bring back order in their online chaos.


4. Your action sports or outdoor brand doesn’t translate their content

Lack of budget may sometimes be an issue, but the power of translating content is often grossly underestimated.

Let’s take one of the new Tokyo 2020 extreme sports as an example: rock climbing.

Some of the world’s biggest climbing communities – such as Spain, France or Italy – have a poor grasp of the English language – which incidentally is the language in which most climbing brands produce their content.

A staggering amount of content produced via YouTube videos (sponsored athletes), films, websites, catalogues, marketing materials is usually left in English.

As a direct result, many brands are leaving money on the table or simply missing out on truly connecting with sport enthusiasts.

For example, adding foreign language subtitles to short videos or films is a quick and cost-effective way to make your content immediately available to your biggest foreign-speaking communities.

However, they need to be done right. The vast majority of the content we come across are subtitled poorly, making it hard to follow and engage with.

If you are planning to add subtitles to your video content or commercial videos, please shoot us a line and we’ll send you a guide with best practices free of charge.

skater jumping



How our specialized sports translation service can help

Surprise! Here comes the paragraph where we offer a solution to your problem, and explain how we can help you crack new markets or strengthen your relationship with existing ones with our sports translation service.

Everyone in our team is a trained professional sports translator, but also an extreme sport lover. We are skiers, snowboarders, surfers, trail runners, climbers – you name it – and can cover a wide array of language combinations and markets.

Some of our team members are or used to be semi-professional athletes, so we’re not trying to overpitch when we say we truly specialize in the action sports industry.

We literally are the action sports industry.

If you’re thinking of expanding your business abroad or improving your current local presence and need a sports translation agency that truly gets you, drop us a line.

Send us an email to now. We can help you scale globally while avoiding embarrassing cultural or terminological pitfalls.

Contact us now for a free chat.


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Martina is the CEO and founder at The Action Sports Translator. After starting her career in marketing translation in 2010, she has been recognized as a Localization industry influencer multiple years in a row and has been working with some of the world's most exciting brands to bring multilingual marketing campaigns to life.

Co-founder and localization manager at Protect Our Winters Italy, she founded The Action Sports Translator to provide outdoor brands with a sports translation service that truly gets them. When she isn’t working, you can usually find her climbing a mountain or snowboarding down the other side.

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