Bringing up topics like race, gender, sexuality, religion, or class can be intimidating and uncomfortable as a coach. But in many cases, staying silent on those topics can alienate athletes on your team, and make them feel as though they aren’t being understood. These conversations can be difficult, but they’re critical.
TrueSport Experts Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, and President of Now What Facilitation, Nadia Kyba, MSW, are here to help guide you through how to have meaningful and constructive discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)—and how to come to terms with the fact that you won’t always get it right the first time.
Create a Safe Space
Before asking questions and starting conversations, it’s critical that athletes know that your team is a safe space for them. “Coaches need to understand the importance of establishing their team culture as one where being open and being vulnerable is encouraged,” says Chapman. “Athletes should know that practices, team meetings, and meetings with you are safe spaces where they can talk about themselves as whole individuals, not just as athletes. They should feel valued by you as people, not as players. As coaches, we’re growing young people and future adults, so we want to be able to make this a safe place to have these open conversations and learn from each other.”
Normalize Asking Questions
While DEI conversations should happen year-round, start your year strong by asking questions early and often. Kyba recommends having a connection-building circle at the start of the season, where athletes share their names and their preferred pronouns, and can begin to potentially share some things about their culture and background.
Kyba recommends starting with a question like, “How would you like to see your culture represented in the team?” For instance, if an athlete is Muslim, will they need to take fasting for Ramadan into account, or need certain breaks in practice or competition for prayer? Having these transparent conversations and being open to making these accommodations—even if athletes aren’t ready to share their needs yet—sets the tone for the season and builds trust.