Provided by: Amplified Soccer
Sports have long brought together diverse people from different racial, ethnic and religious origins. The thrill of friendly competition supersedes differences, uniting folks in a similar goal of bringing home the trophy.
However, mixed messages from outsiders and the media shape your players' attitudes. You can become a conscientious leader who instills positive values in your team members through your example and the atmosphere you create on the field. Here's how to make your team more inclusive.
1. Seek (or Create) Accessible Facilities
You don't have to coach a powerchair soccer team to need an accessible stadium. Many of your team members have parents and grandparents who want to see them play - but can find climbing steep stadium steps difficult, even impossible in some cases.
You might need to make certain upgrades as a matter of law. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) implemented in 2009 requires all public spaces and businesses with 15 or more employees to comply. Stadiums constructed before 1993 might remain exempt until you undergo other renovations to the field.
Pay attention to your parking area, too. Do you have an accessible parking space with van accessibility so that those who rely on chairs to get around can safely exit their vehicle?
2. Pair Players Strategically During Drills
Inclusivity entails more than ensuring your facility meets ADA requirements. It also means fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect among your players, regardless of individual differences.
One way to foster teamwork is to pair your players strategically when running drills. For example, when doing a one-to-one controlled dribble, change partners each match. You can match up the next set of opponents winner to winner or connect stronger players with those who need the most improvement on their skills - whichever method gives each player the maximum number of different opponents to hone their skills. Along the way, they'll develop an appreciation for their colleague's strengths.
There's a lot more to your players than their strength on the field, however. Encourage your teammates to get to know each other as people. For example, you could start each practice with a fun icebreaker that invites participants to share a bit about their innermost thoughts.
3. Create a Zero-Tolerance Policy Regarding Derogatory and Belittling Language
As a coach, your players' behavior reflects upon your leadership. Your team looks to you to set the gold standard for how to treat others. You don't know who a careless slur could hurt - they might never say a word. However, your reputation as a positive, compassionate adult will suffer. So will your players who feel insulted.
Draft a zero-tolerance policy regarding derogatory and belittling language. This rule goes beyond racism. Comments like “you play like a girl” or “do you ride a special bus to get here” are equally demeaning and have no place in a friendly, inclusive organization.
4. Embrace Exhibition Matches That Involve Travel
When you talk to your players about the doors soccer can open for them, you typically refer to things like scholarship opportunities. However, your team's wins can also open up the possibility of flying the friendly skies. If you have an opportunity to travel for an exhibition match with a team from another part of the country, perhaps even the world, seize it.
Mark Twain once wrote that travel is fatal to prejudice. Many of your younger players have never ventured far beyond their last away match. Experiencing how other people live and getting acquainted with their customs is an ideal way to foster inclusivity. Therefore, if your players have a chance to grab their backpack or duffel bag as carry-on, get them on the plane.
5. Encourage Open Communication Between Players, Parents and Staff
If one of your players had an encounter with a teammate that made them feel uncomfortable or even discriminated against, would they feel safe telling you? The way you react and encourage communication makes a significant difference.
Communicate to players that you are there to listen, even if what they have to say doesn't have anything to do with their on-field performance. Post your office hours and inform parents of when you are available. Set up an online calendar - you can do so for free - and encourage players to sign up for a one-on-one chat to discuss touchy subjects.
6. Educate Yourself
People might not like admitting their inherent biases - but everyone has them. Spend some time reflecting on your attitudes. What underlying beliefs do you have that might lead to treating your players differently?
Then, educate yourself. If you find that you have a gender bias, read inspiring stories from athletes like Chris Mosier, the first trans athlete to compete on a U.S. national team. Read Moses Fleetwood Walker's biography, the first African American to play professional baseball - before Jackie Robinson.
Making Your Team More Inclusive
As a coach, you lead your team to more than victory over their opponents. You also help them overcome harmful stereotypes.
It all begins with modeling the right behavior. Use the tips above to make your team more inclusive.