As a young athlete, you may struggle to ask for respect from your coach, your peers, and even your parents. For example, you might need your coach to communicate feedback differently or you may want your teammates to stop using a particular nickname.
Here, board-certified family physician and TrueSport Expert Deborah Gilboa, MD, explains how to ask for the respect that you need from anyone within your sports circle, from doctors to coaches to teammates.
Start with Self-Respect
It’s hard to ask for respect from others if you struggle to respect yourself, says Gilboa. In many cases, having self-respect can look like a series of practical actions, rather than just an attitude or feeling that you adopt. For example, self-respect can mean arriving at practice on time and properly fueled with an afternoon snack, showing that you respect your body and role as an athlete. You can also demonstrate self-respect by respecting your own boundaries out loud, with something like ‘I have to get some sleep tonight, but I’d love to hang out tomorrow.’
Set Your Own Boundaries
Maybe you’ve never thought about what your boundaries are before. Now is the time to start, since it’s hard to demand respect—which includes respecting your boundaries—if you can’t articulate them. Gilboa says this can start with simple things: “Is there a name you prefer to be called? Do you not want to talk about competition on weekends, or during lunch at school? Figuring out and communicating your boundaries makes it possible for people to respect them.”
Respect is a Two-Way Street
It’s important to note that there is a balance here. Developing a set of boundaries and sticking to them is important and helps you demand respect, but you still have to give respect while maintaining your own boundaries. For example, you can politely but firmly tell your coach that you can’t do an extra practice because you have another commitment, and you may suggest an alternative plan, like doing an extra strength workout at home.
Understand (and Work) the System
There are a few fast tracks to getting respect, especially from adults in your life, says Gilboa. One is simply being honest and accepting responsibility for mistakes that you may have made. “Accountability is huge,” says Gilboa. “If you’re able to accept responsibility for something you’ve done, make an apology, and offer a solution if the situation warrants it, you’ll quickly gain respect. You will make mistakes. But if you know how to look an adult in the eye and apologize clearly with accountability, you will be much more successful.”
How to Get Respect from Your Circle
Model the respect that you’d like to receive. If you treat your teammates with respect, from using the pronouns that they’ve asked you to use to generally being aware of how your actions make them feel, you’re helping them learn how to treat you.
Here are a few specific examples that show how to apply this guidance:
Coaches, parents, teachers: Ask for clear rules and expectations. Coaches and parents sometimes enforce certain rules for some people on the team (or siblings, in the case of parents) but not for others. You can advocate for yourself by asking them to lay out the rules and expectations in writing, as well as the consequences. That way, if they aren’t asking all the team members to live up to this ruleset, you can easily point it out.
Doctors and other experts: Your sports circle may contain certain experts, such as physical therapists and dietitians. It can be difficult to ask for respect from these people, especially if they position themselves as all-knowing. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and you may have situations where you need to advocate for yourself if something doesn’t feel right. Don’t be afraid to politely but firmly ask for a second opinion, more tests, for further discussion. Often, these experts will respect you for speaking up. And you know better than anyone else if something is actually wrong.
Peers: Get clear on what you want, and then ask for it in a calm way. “A good example is expressing clarity around what you’d like to be called,” says Gilboa. “Maybe you don’t like to be called by just your last name or maybe there’s a nickname that you hate. Ask firmly and politely to be called by the name you prefer—and continue to ask anytime you’re called by the name that you don’t like.” And of course, extend those same courtesies to others.
People you lead: Start by being extremely clear about the respect you’re asking for. “Often, the biggest factor that helps you get respect from the team you lead is simply being able to articulate what respect means to you,” says Gilboa.
It may feel uncomfortable, but asking for the respect you need and deserve is an important skill to develop and practice in sport and beyond. Be sure to establish, communicate, and enforce your boundaries, as well as show the same respect to others.