It’s safe to say that diversity has arrived for most sports; and that the possibilities to build new friendships through a favorite sport are better now than in the past.
Expressing here as an EEOC Counselor, these same positive values promoted in the workplace should exist on the playing field, and in the locker rooms & meeting rooms.
Every coach, assistant coach, and every team member needs to “buy into” that perspective of ‘diversity.’ A simple definition would include having respect for cultures & ethnicities other than one’s own.
It has several dimensions: nationality, gender, racial composition, sexual orientation, and economical household income aspects.
Diversity Objectives For Coaches and Guardians
To promote the subject sport of the team and the team itsel as being a vehicle toward unity, and not serve as a convenient place to express negative commentary.
Initially, assess the diversity of the team.
What is the ethnic profile of the team?
It’s possible to ask about nationalities on each player’s team member record cards or file pages.
Informally the coach can then tally up which nationalities, religions, ethnic races are represented among the membership.
This assessment could also be done at the commissioner level on the team league level and even compare teams. Any league newsletters or announcements can include such diversity information when presented as something positive, and a form of recognition of this diversity.
However, diversity “arranging” should NOT be the “prime directive”. Ethnic quotas with any re-arranging of rosters would be artificial, and would not support diversity. The random factors of chance have hopefully resulted in the profiles of each team.
For teams/leagues in larger cities, neighborhoods might be represented by more “segregation” simply because of the locations of where the members live. For example, all teammates may belong to the same parish or local school within a smaller neighborhood. The answer, of course, is not for a league to split up established teams merely to assemble statistically diverse teams. Such league mandates are likely to backfire.
To support and promote diversity, encouraging friendships among team rivals can equally accomplish that major objective of everyone “getting along” and thus the discouragement of disparaging words & hateful actions toward other players.
Six Steps For Coaches
- Ask inwardly: Can team recruitment be extended to any ethnicities not already represented?
- If so, in what ways? Where is recruitment being done? Are the team efforts for new players/members to join the team or the league actually reaching every venue?
- Have at least one opportunity (i.e., during a team meeting very early in the season) for each youth or teenager to explain in their own words (to their group) how their team sport fits within with their ethnicity profile. If the team has a wide representation of nationalities, this should become a positive information exchange. And even if not very diverse in teammate profiles, ANY differences can still be celebrated.
- For youth teams, gain the parental buy-in of different backgrounds. The parents in turn can set favorable examples for the younger people. This can be accomplished with a “meet & greet” gathering of all the team parents/guardians, in the presence of their children.
- Asking the team members for their specific thoughts on how to make their team better support diversity could lead to some interesting suggestions. In elementary schools and high schools, the “international day” celebration becomes a chance to exchange cultures in a friendly way. Perhaps a fundraiser for the team could carry such a theme of international recognition.
- At every game match or team practice, remind each & all team members that their words & actions can define who they are in the eyes & ears of others: team opponents, the regulating officials, the spectator crowds, and any news media which might be present. Players need not be told, “be on your guard”. Instead, ask each member to focus on the game itself, and improve their skill set at every opportunity. And that means no room for irrelevant comments or starting fights based on any ethnic stereotypes.
Note: It would be hoped that with adult league sports in the year 2022 (and beyond!), diversity would be or become a non-issue, where the main focus remains on the enjoyment of playing the sport– and abandoning any biases that one might have grown up with.
Coaching Topics To Discuss at Meetings:
The best-known example of diversity “expansions” is the Jackie Robinson story in pro baseball. As the popular story is told, after some resistance from some executives more accustomed to major league baseball’s “whites-only” policy, that color barrier was finally broken–with Dodgers owner Branch Rickey accepting Robinson for his team roster.
As another example for everyone, Willie O’Ree had to break the color barrier in pro ice hockey.
That challenge took much acceptance by his teammates, as one positive example of how teammates should react to any “new person” on the team.
Downplaying ethnicities and instead re-focusing on what the sport is about may bring about the desired results for the entire roster of team members.
Preventive pointer: It might be tempting for a few jokers on the team to make up nicknames for their teammates, however seemingly harmless.
But this is where the coach needs to be the judge of whether any nickname might have hidden ethnic negativity with it.
Even if the “named” teammate feels flattered by the attention, and the name is with an affectionate tone, the parent might think differently, as might opposing team members.
The possibilities of such questionable nicknames bring many risk-prone examples that could start trouble.
By making ethnicity less important, the true team-oriented objectives emerge more clearly as being about sportsmanship and sports discipline. Both “practices” lead to better performance.
Stereotyping about different ethnicities needs to also become obsolete–even as a source of humor. Leave the jokes to the professionals and Hollywood actors, even though they tend to push the limit sometimes.
In real life, such ethnic jokes can be taken (and are likely to be) perceived as offensive, especially where individuals might have had early challenges in the localities or neighborhoods of where they originally came from.
In a real-world example of biases in the past: How ironic that a young person of one “minority” culture would call another individual out with a slur to another “minority.” But it has happened. The frequency of such negative (and possibly de-moralizing) incidents can become much less if the coaches and teammates consciously adjust their mindset toward the sport and the skills needed.
Setting Disciplinary Guidelines:
If an ethnic slur happens from anyone on the team, whether directed at a teammate or an opponent (no matter how heated the play or the situation becomes), it is up to the coach and team captain to see to it that some sort of penalty happens to the offending teammate. “Bench time” is usually an effective deterrent, where the offending player denies themselves playing minutes, or when warranted, whole games to sit out.
Avoid monetary penalties–especially with youth, for two reasons:
- One person’s dollar can be like ten dollars to the next person, based on the household income & budget.
- If it is the parent or guardian who eventually pays the fine of any amount, the team-member offender isn’t directly going to feel or experience a consequence of remedial justice.
In a recent TEAMUSA article, the webpage sets forth eight “virtues” or principles that would guide a coach toward the desired objective or more & better quality of diversity:
- Love (of the game and the team participants for whoever they are),
- Authenticity (not forcing diversity on anyone),
- Understanding (of differences in gender and sexuality as well as income, not only ethnicity)
- Commitment (a concern for the team budget, with members of different income levels)
- Reflection (asking the leadership question of what in the program might be missing),
- Longevity (promoting lifelong participation in the sport),
- Unity (keeping the common goal of the team in sight),
- Play (provide adequate & ample time/opportunity with the sport for every teammate).
A successful team may not necessarily be characterized (nor defined) only by winning a championship. The team has the most fun, the greatest camaraderie, and the largest number of lasting friendships by some valid measures. That becomes the true “winner.”
So success is possible for every team! And one key would thus be through embracing the diversity of the team. Most championship teams generally have indeed cast aside any prejudices, where an environment of acceptance rules temperaments much better than the tensions created with negative commentary something that adds no value to any athletic sport.