“There’s nothing really good that comes from a 14-15 year old thinking that you really like them.” “I try to keep my personal side out of it as much as possible.” “I’m more like going for 80% impact.”
Is that the kind of coach I am or want to be?
There was some context to these words, but as I thought about and listened back to my guest episode on the Winning Youth Coaching Podcast, I wanted them back.
From fall 2016 to spring 2017, I drove over 2500 miles to coach both rowing and lacrosse as well as volunteer at and attend clinics. I spent thousands of dollars on gas, books and coaching resources, equipment, plus tuition at the University of Denver to help me become a better coach. I spent hundreds of hours away from home, my girlfriend, and dog, many of them uncomfortable hours in the cold, rain, early morning and late night, and many more hours studying, thinking about, and talking about coaching and my athletes with my co-coaches. In addition to all my personal effort, I had the lives and athletic pursuits of 45 young people entrusted to me by themselves and their parents. And yet, I’m only “going for 80% impact”?!
I knew immediately that I was unsatisfied with my answer, but it took me most of last season to figure out exactly why and what I could do to change it.
In part one last week, we covered person-first language, took a detailed look at what it means to truly be inclusive, and evaluated the differences (or lack thereof) in characteristics of athletes with and without disabilities. In part two, we’ll use the critical theory to look at how sport reflects society for people with disabilities, the concept of social settings to check the message your program is sending to people with disabilities, and wrap things up with an action plan for coaches.
Sport as a Model of Society
Especially in an Olympic year, we constantly hear about the values of sport in society. Sports build character, sports teach life lessons, sports teach the value of hard work, team work, self-confidence, and so on. There is no doubt that sport can be a powerful way to do all of these things, but only when done with the goal of doing so. Just like playing a team-building game on the first day of practice doesn’t automatically build a rock-solid team with no further effort, the messages you want to send and the lessons you want to teach with sport need to be consistently evaluated and reinforced to be effective.
One way that we can evaluate sports in society is with the Critical Theory. This is one of five main sociological theories that has guided sociological research for the last fifty years, and focuses on the power dynamics present in a given environment . Someone using critical theory will see sport is an area where culture and social relations can be produced and changed. History has proven that this is the case in sport, from race relations to gender stereotypes, and hopefully now to disability. Main questions to ask of your program from a critical theory perspective include:
- How do people without disabilities interact with, influence, and make decisions for those with disabilities?
- How is power shared between individuals with and without disabilities? What is the balance of competitive opportunities, resources, equipment, coaching, and more?
I’m a straight, white, healthy, 24-year old athletic male with no disabilities. No one in my close family has disabilities, and it’s not something that I consider myself to know much about. I coach high school lacrosse and college rowing, two sports traditionally known for being more privileged, and aside from a few athletes with attention deficit disorder, I haven’t had any experience of coaching athletes with disabilities. My exposure to the field of disability comes from my girlfriend, an MA graduate in rehabilitation counseling who works in residential services for people with disabilities, and a few opportunities to volunteer with an adaptive rowing program in the Seattle area. I decided to do a final project for a graduate school course on this subject and set about learning more about sport for people with disabilities as well as accommodations and inclusivity in sport. As I started researching, talking to other coaches, and thinking about my own experiences, I realized I had a lot to learn. My goal with this article is to share my learning process, including my own preconceived notions, background research and sociological theory, and tangible takeaways for my own coaching and hopefully yours too.
Part one of this article will discuss person-first language, how we can define and produce inclusiveness, and whether there actually is a difference between athletes with and without disabilities. Part two will discuss how sports reflect society for people with disabilities, how environment affects perceptions and actions, and will conclude with an action plan for coaches.