How Do I Talk To My Student-Athletes About…Race, Gender, Sexuality, or LGBT Issues, or any other uncomfortable topic? How do I start that conversation with my student-athletes so that they know I am coming from a place of loving, caring and not a place of trying to get into their business or “out” them. How do I as someone who is white, straight, Christian, male, or whatever other privileges that are at the top of the food chain, talk to my student-athletes that do not have the same privilege as I do?
These are the type of questions I get from coaches who really do want to talk to their student-athletes about issues that are occurring on the national level, state level, local level or in their institution. They see their student-athletes struggling with issues and are afraid to say something because they don’t know how to start the conversation, they do not want to say the wrong thing, or they really are unsure of what to talk about. They know what they don’t know but aren’t sure of how to make the next move.
To help you out, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
1. What is my end game? What am I hoping to achieve in this conversation with my student-athlete?
2. Am I fully aware that there is a lot to this subject area I do not know about?
3. Have I been educating myself on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, privilege, identity, and etc. or am I going in with no knowledge base?
4. Have I don’t work on my privileges and have gained an understanding of how my understanding or lack of understanding of privilege can affect the conversations I have with student-athletes?
5. Do I pay attention to the power dynamic being a coach and having control of playing time/scholarships can affect the conversation and how honest my players will be?
6. Have I reached out to the centers on my campus to gain more insight into these subjects?
7. Do I know the staff members within those centers that I can point my student-athlete to if the conversation leads to areas that I am not knowledgeable about?
8. Am I aware of my unconscious and implicit biases? Have I been working on them? Implicit Bias Training
9. Am I willing to be vulnerable as well?
It is very easy to want to help but you want to make sure that your intent is landing as well as the impact. It doesn’t matter if your intent is to help a student-athlete going through problems within one of their identities if the impact negatively affects the student-athlete. Working with the diversity/cultural centers to educate yourself as well as reading up on as much as possible will help prepare you for those conversations and not make the student-athlete with that marginalized identity have to do the work in educating you. If you want the student-athlete with the marginalized identity to educate you then the whole point of the conversation becomes voided.
Below is a great critical thinking cheatsheet to help you formulate your conversation with a student-athlete about one or more of their identities. I understand this can look daunting and make you say “well I just won’t have the conversation”, but I hope that instead, your thought process leads you to realize that this can help you not only in situations where you want to have a conversation with a student-athlete about their identity but in conversations with anyone where your positive intent can potentially have a negative impact. This could be a lesson that you could help teach your student-athletes and staff members as this assists people to look at the bigger picture and build an inclusive atmosphere. Making a culture inclusive will take time and baby steps. We have to acknowledge that it won’t happen over night but if you put work in it will happen.
Interested in having me come out and chat with your staff and or athletic department about race and diversity issues? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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