By: Jen Fry, MA and Jen Jacobs, MA 

Race. Ethnicity. Culture. Privilege. In the wake of heavily publicized, and often violent events that have occurred to communities of color, the current racial landscape in our country has been moved to the front and center of our daily lives regardless of our race.  These countless incidences of hate combined with the current political landscape have lifted the discussion of how race, a socially constructed concept, plays itself in American society.  College campuses, athletics programs, and teams are not immune to this conversation and are finding themselves grappling with the complex discussion, meaning, and implications. More and more evidence is pointing to the fact that athletes of color from diverse backgrounds experience the world, our nation, our campuses, and our teams in a different way from those who have benefitted from the concept of privilege within America.

The aforementioned concepts, race, ethnicity, culture, and privilege are increasingly playing an important part in the scope of college admissions, collegiate athletics and specifically collegiate athletics recruiting. Google almost any college or university in America and more than likely, you will find some type of institutional diversity strategic plan. Generally, these plans touch on admissions standards, policies, outreach and best practices in recruiting and retaining students of color. Concepts related to culturally-responsive classrooms, anti-bias and anti-racism trainings are typically also included in these plans.   

And why wouldn’t they?  

According to some sources from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. is already a *majority-minority nation for children under the age of five. As early as 2020 America will be a majority-minority nation for people under the age of eighteen, and that trend will continue to identify over half of Americans by 2060. Our nation is becoming more and more racially and ethnically diverse.  Unsurprisingly, prospective student-athletes are also becoming more and more diverse forcing educational institutions to think about the way they operate and adjust to remain relevant in current and future landscapes.  

When recruiting students-athletes of color, not only do institutions’ administrations and admissions departments need to increasingly be aware of the nation’s changing demographics; collegiate coaches do as well.  Let’s further examine this concept through the volleyball lens when it comes to recruiting and retaining volleyball student-athletes of color.

College volleyball coaches need to first be aware of how “white” volleyball actually is. Data taken from the NCAA, shows women’s teams are 74% white, and men’s teams are 68% white. Student-athletes of color, encompassing African, African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Multiracial, account for only 26% and 32% of the teams. What this means is college volleyball rosters typically have zero to two people of color.  With the scope of demographic shifts, it is becoming imperative that coaches are intentional about becoming more culturally responsive and racially conscious – *“woke,” to remain relevant as a coach and as a recruiter.

As volleyball coaches, it is necessary to be educated in addressing the intersectionality of race and gender. We cannot keep thinking our players are only student-athletes. When we have the singular mentality, we deny how factors of intersectionality – race, ethnicity, and culture – play out in our athletes’ daily lives and experiences. Seeing or addressing a student-athlete’s skin color and personal experiences does not assume or invoke racism; rather it can have a positive impact and help to open the discussion. When a coach can authentically navigate these conversations with their student-athletes it can provide insight into their world, and open the coaches’ eyes to being more in tune in how to get the best from their athletes, on and off the court.   

The exploration, acknowledgment, and understanding that a person of color – a student-athlete of color – may experience the world differently than a white person is half the battle.   Acknowledgement is not the same as preferential treatment, and equity is not equality.  It is imperative that coaches are aware of, vested in, and leaders in their institutions’ diversity/inclusion strategic plans. Below are a few questions for coaches to consider:

How engaged are you in diversity and inclusion work within your institution?

Does your school have an inclusion/diversity plan and do you know what it is?

When thinking about your school’s diversity plan how much knowledge do you have about your campus cultural centers?

Do you know the staff and the campus cultural center’s strategic plan(s)?

Do you know what resources are available to your team and your individual athletes from within those campus cultural centers?

Do you take recruits on tours through them?

Have you considered using the resources and speakers available through the campus cultural centers?

Have you thought of having the directors of the campus cultural centers come speak to your team just as you have compliance, strength and conditioning, athletic training, and academics?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these, ask yourself why.

Cultural centers are not places that should only be shown or used by people whom we may assume “need it”. If there is anything to take away from this article, it is that we as a profession need to challenge our own assumptions, especially around race.  A best practice towards creating a more inclusive environment would be to include cultural centers as a consistent part of tours, and integrate their educational values within our programs.

There are racial issues occurring daily around the world. Coaches must be aware that the violence towards men and women of color brought to light by the media impacts our student-athletes. The potential implications of immigration reform and the threat of building a wall impacts our athletes. The current state of the Muslim ban and subsequent deportation of people from certain countries impacts our student-athletes. The continued Keystone Pipeline battle impacts our student-athletes.

We are at a time and in a place where we must face and engage in the conversation.  We don’t know everything, we may not know what is “best” for our student-athletes and there are resources available to us, on our own campuses should we choose to seek them out.  

This is a plea to our coaching colleagues to acknowledge the growing diversity of volleyball players.  This is a call for coaches to intentionally become culturally responsive and racially conscious – *“woke,” and to allow our student-athletes to bring their full selves to the table…for themselves, for us, for our teams, and for our world.  

Sources and Definitions noted



*Majority-Minority – relating to a population in which more than half represent social, ethnic, or racial minorities, and in which fewer members of the more socially, politically, or financially dominant group are represented. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/majority-minority

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