If you’re reading this article, you likely want to start improving the diversity, equity, and inclusion on your team or at your school, but you’re simply not sure where to begin. Here, TrueSport Experts Michele LaBotz, sports medicine physician; Nadia Kyba, MSW, President of Now What Facilitation; and Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorder, are sharing their best advice for leading effective DE&I efforts on your team.
Understand your role as a team leader
“If you are going to be a leader on your team, I think it’s important to not avoid hard topics, and you need to have a social justice and a compassion-driven mentality,” says Chapman. “You also need to pay attention to what people are saying and whether people are being excluded. That could be in language—like what pronouns someone uses—or it could be noticing the makeup of your team as a whole.”
As a team leader, you can also acknowledge and celebrate that you are all different, says Chapman. “Everyone on a team is important and unique,” he explains. “As a leader, it’s essential that you recognize that not everyone shares that same experience that you do. We all vary in our socialization, demographic, sexual orientation, spirituality, and race. We all come from different places, and many of us have multiple identities.”
Start with a team audit
“The team audit is a tool to help you get started,” explains Kyba. “Look at your team as a whole and ask where there are issues that need to be addressed. Is there diversity on the team? If not, why not? Can that be addressed? Are you considering barriers to joining the team, and whether the barriers are more emotional or practical? Is the team hosting practices on days when certain religious groups can’t practice, or charging high prices for uniforms or extra training camps? What are the issues that could prevent the team from being a welcoming place for everyone?” This conversation can also address more systemic issues like equity for women in sport—start with your team, but feel free to open up the audit to more global issues.
Remember, nothing about them without them
“When picking an area of focus, remember: nothing about them without them,” says Kyba. “If you want to learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement, you need to go to the source and not just make up your own ideas.” Do you want to address the obstacles that make it hard for Black students to participate in school sports? Before you plan any specific actions, bring Black students to the table.
Identify the one area of focus
“After a team audit, you may be feeling pulled in several different directions,” says Kyba. “That’s difficult to negotiate because each area is important. But if you try to focus on everything at once, you will likely not see much change.” Pick one area of focus—like bringing more women into the school’s athletics program, for example—and choose activities that will directly impact that area.
It’s great to have a team with strong values around diversity, equity, and inclusion, but without action, those values can fall flat. Once you’ve selected an area of focus, now you can work with the team to come up with ideas for activities to improve the situation. To improve women’s participation, for instance, a team could do ‘recruitment’ in clubs and classes that tend to be more women-dominant, or host open practices for women to see how they like the sport before committing, or even add in ‘field trips’ to professional women’s sporting events, suggests LaBotz.
Once again, it’s worth pointing out that you may come up with a list of 25 activities, but you don’t need to do them all at once, says Kyba. “You can’t do 800 fundraisers!” she says. “As a team, you may decide that there’s one activity that you want to focus on first, such as adding land acknowledgments at the beginning of every competition.” After a few successful events, the team can pick the next activity to add in.
Make it fun
While some activities like land acknowledgements, reconciliation ceremonies, or protests are more serious in nature, remember that DE&I efforts can have elements of fun too. “Doing things that are tangentially sport-related like going to a WNBA game together or making a list of podcasts or books that are written by women athletes can be fun team bonding activities in addition to helping make positive change,” Kyba says.
Push against pushback
While these efforts are obviously positive and necessary, there is a chance that some people may push back against your efforts and suggest focusing solely on practice and competition. “It is up to each person on the team whether they want to be involved, but hopefully you’ll be able to find something that resonates for everyone,” says Kyba. “If you do have members who are skeptical, it’s worth asking them what their concerns are and what’s giving them pause. They may simply be concerned that the team won’t be as focused on competing. In that case, you can remind them that a team that’s more inclusive and unified is going to play better.”
To that point, it is worth noting that while DE&I efforts are important from a human standpoint first and foremost, they truly do make teams stronger in competition as well. “That team cohesion leads to success,” says LaBotz. “If you’re not making an effort to make a team diverse and inclusive, you’ll likely end up with a team that has bullies and cliques, and that’s very destructive in terms of performance.”
Starting a DE&I effort on your team can feel overwhelming but there are ways to make it manageable and effect real change. And remember in everything you do: nothing about them without them.