LGBTQ+ Inclusion Within Your Team: A Coach’s Guide

This June, as we celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month, USA Field Hockey will be highlighting resources for how to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion within your team all year long. This will include a guide for athletes, coaches and parents – as well as insight from members of the field hockey community. 

This week’s guide is for coaches. It includes resources and trainings, and a brief overview of how to promote LBGTQ+ inclusion as a coach.

All athletes have a right to a sense of inclusion and to feel safe within their team and sport, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a coach, you are responsible for your team, and this includes helping to curate your team’s culture. It is increasingly important as a coach to intentionally create a competitive environment that is safe and inclusive for all players, including LGBTQ+ athletes.

There are many resources available to coaches to help achieve this goal. If you’re looking for a place to get started, check out the resources below.

Resources for Coaches

  • Guides:

    GLSEN provides a clear and helpful guide for coaches on creating safe and inclusive teams for LGBTQ+ athletes, developed in 2021. The main points of the guide are summarized at the end of this article.

USA Field Hockey asked Wellesley College Field Hockey Head Coach Callie Lekas how she navigates LBGTQ+ inclusivity with her team.

“Inclusivity is at the cornerstone of what I do as a coach and in our program. We want our student-athletes to feel welcomed and accepted from the moment they join our team. In order for us to be our best, we want to create a space where people feel safe and comfortable to be their genuine and authentic selves. As a coach, I work to get to know my student-athletes as people, not just field hockey players - what they like to do in their free time, hobbies, academics, and about their families and friends. It's important that they feel valued as exactly who they are!”

In addition, this past fall Lekas worked alongside other field hockey coaches in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) to host a Pride Game. The game helped to raise both funds and awareness for Athlete Ally, and organization whose mission statement is “to end homophobia and transphobia in sport and to activate the athletic community to exercise their leadership to champion LGBTQI+ equality.”

“This game not only allowed us to do that, but also provide education about their organization and the importance of sport in people's lives. Athletics and teams become people's outlets and families and I want student-athletes to grow and thrive as themselves.”

Gabrielle Shell

Below are a few tips for coaches on how to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion on your team, summarized from GLEN’s Game Plan for Coaches: Creating Safe and Inclusive Teams for LGBTQ+ Athletes.

  • Get Educated

    Sometimes it can feel like the world is changing so fast and it’s hard to keep up. What is the right terminology? How do I address these concerns properly? Like anything that is changing, it is best to be proactive and stay on top of changes. This means you and your staff will need to dedicate time to understanding LGBTQ+ athlete experiences. This can include research and attending trainings.

  • Use Inclusive Language

    This is an example where a very small change can help make big impacts. By using inclusive language, you can prevent unintentionally isolating athletes. Making these changes sets the tone for your team and a good example to your athletes.

    Respect everyone when addressing the entire group. Use phrases such as “Welcome, everyone” as an alternative to “Welcome, ladies” which excludes nonbinary or gender-diverse athletes.

  • Support and Respect Your Athletes

    This seems intuitive, but it is important to support and respect your athletes. For example, if your athlete prefers to go by a different name than their legal name, call them by their preferred name. Support and advocate for your athlete if they need accommodations to travel or for uniforms.

  • Don’t stand for Anti-LGBTQ+ Behaviors

    One of the most effective ways you can show solidarity is to respond to anti-LGBTQ+ behavior. By taking action and intervening when you hear anti-LGBTQ+ bullying and harassment, you set the example for your team that this behavior will not be tolerated.

Below are a few ways to prepare for common scenarios, adapted from USA Swimming’s LGBTQ Cultural Inclusion Resource Guide.

  • As a coach, what do I do when an athlete comes out as LGBTQ?

    • Listen.
    • Be open and respectful.
    • If you are unsure about anything, ask.
    • Ask if they have come out to others or if they prefer to keep the information private.
    • Honor confidentiality; never “out” someone.
    • Ask how you can help. What do they need from you and the team?
    • For transgender athletes, ask which pronouns they use, and if they need any accommodations.
    • Only with their permission, talk to their parent to get a sense of how their home life might be supportive or detrimental to their health and wellbeing.
    • Discuss the current policies in place to protect the athlete against harassment. Revise if necessary.
    • If the athlete is open about their sexual orientation, discuss inclusion with their peers.
    • Be an ally: correct offensive behavior and stand up for the LGBTQ athlete.
  • How do I deal with a parent having difficulty with these policies of inclusion?

    • Listen.
    • Be patient.
    • Remain polite, but firm.
    • Explain why inclusion is the primary goal.
    • Encourage them to imagine their child in a situation where they might be bullied or harassed.
    • If you are in front of a large group, ask them to speak to you privately after the group meeting.
    • Refer to your team’s policies and procedures for guidance.
  • How do I deal with athletes having difficulty with these policies of inclusion? What do I do when I witness harassment or inappropriate language?

    • Address the problem right away.
    • Be very clear with your expectations.
    • Refer to your team’s policies and procedures for guidance.
    • Let them know that they have violated your policy (if that is the case) and remain true to the consequences laid out in your team policy.
    • If the athlete was disrespectful in front of other athletes discuss the situation with your entire team.