It’s All About Choice

By: • 7 months ago •

It’s all about CHOICE

By Peter Downs

There’s no doubt about it. Inclusion and diversity is on trend in Australian sport. Being inclusive is the thing to be! Sports now have Inclusion Officers engaged to design programs that create greater diversity in sport participation. Some sports have entire departments dedicated to inclusion and diversity. Sport is increasingly reflecting our changing communities. All this is welcome and many would argue, long overdue.

Coaching is front and centre of the inclusion movement. So it should be. The role of the coach is critical to engaging and encouraging anyone to get involved, and stay involved in sport. But what does it take to be an inclusive coach? What does an inclusive coach need to know and do to be inclusive?


What is inclusion, diversity and discrimination?


No doubt you’ve seen words like inclusion, diversity, integration or even mainstreaming as it relates to coaching. What do all these mean? Is there a difference between these terms?
Well, that’s up to you! There are many different definitions for these terms you

can find online. But, definitions are not that important or very helpful. Whatever you call it, inclusion is about your coaching being open to everyone, without unfair discrimination.


A good way to think about it is to consider your local community and the choices you offer to participate in coaching. Who is in your community? Not all communities are the same. A community on the north shore of Sydney is not the same as a community in Bendigo or Toowoomba? Does your coaching group reflect your local community? Are people missing? If so, why are they missing? Are there choices you can offer that will encourage more diverse groups?

It’s all about choices and recognising unfair discrimination


A practical way to look at inclusion is to think about it in terms of the choices you offer. For example, to meet demand


you might run a specific coaching session for young people with disability. Your athletes might be training toward a disability specific event. But are other choices available? Could some of your athletes join other coaching groups and benefit from more generalised training and interaction with peers?

Do you offer choices for women only coaching; or newly arrived migrants; or LGBTQI+ people? If you are open to diverse groups of people how do these people know that you are? Very often, this is where inclusive coaching falls over. It’s not that coaches are unwilling or deliberately unfairly discriminating against people, it’s more that people don’t know if a coach is willing to take them on. For many people that have experienced disadvantage in their lives it’s very difficult to approach a club about coaching. So, be proactive and let the world know that you are proudly inclusive and open to everyone.


Even if you are open to everyone and proudly inclusive it’s still important to recognise


where you may be discriminating against people. The thing about discrimination is that it can be fair or unfair and unintentional or intentional. Clearly, the majority of coaches want to be intentionally fair. However, it’s still good to be vigilant against unintentional unfairness. Discrimination can be against the law when it is unfair based on a personal characteristic (termed protected charac-teristic). Truth is, this can be a grey area for many coaches, for example:
• When you treat someone unfairly because of who they are. For example, not allowing someone to join your coaching group because they have a disability, or

• When you treat someone unfairly because you think they belong to a particular protected group. For example, dropping someone from the team because they will not play on a Sunday and you think it is due to their religion, or


• When you treat someone unfairly because they have an association with someone from a protected group. For example, you exclude someone from coaching because they have a son who is gay. This is known as discrimination by association. Of course, the issue of what is fair or unfair and whether it is based on a personal characteristic or not, can be difficult. As the nuances of these example show. And it’s not that unfair discrimination is always a deliberate act. Often, unfair discrimination can occur unintentionally. This is why it is particularly important for coaches to understand what discrimination is and what to do about it, should it be an issue?


Being inclusive is not only about having a positive open attitude. That’s a starting point for ongoing work around offering greater choices for people to benefit from coaching. Stay vigilant about unfair discrimination and talk to colleagues on how your club and coaching environment can truly reflect the community it is in.


Peter Downs National Manager – Play by the Rules
Peter Downs is currently National Manager of Play by the Rules, a multiagency initiative that promotes safe, fair and inclusive sport. He is former Manager of the Australian Sports Commission’s Disability Sport Unit for 17 years and a Churchill Fellowship recipient, studying models of inclusive practice in sport in Finland, UK and US in 2014.

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