Your Organization’s Opportunity in “SPORTS FOR ALL”
Sports have always been a vehicle for change. As thousands of people from across racial, ethnicity, age, and political lines take to the streets to challenge racism and inequity, athletes, leagues, and teams are leading by example. NASCAR has abolished the Confederate Flag, the NFL admits they were wrong for not “standing” with Colin Kapernick, and athlete after athlete after athlete are standing up for themselves or their black teammates, neighbors, and Americans.
Last fall at our NextUp Conference in New York City, we shared six core beliefs about what the youth and local industry should embrace. One of those beliefs was Sports for All, centered around a vision that every child should have access to amazing sports experiences.” As the Aspen Institute’s Project Play has highlighted, 38% of kids play sports on a regular basis, with cost and access being a huge barrier to participation. To ensure kids from underserved communities – particularly low-income and black and brown communities – have these opportunities, LeagueApps created FundPlay as a platform for providing nonprofit youth sports organizations with software, professional development, and support. In addition, LeagueApps committed 1% of its revenue to impact 500,000 kids in underserved communities by 2022.
Like many businesses out there, at LeagueApps, we have work to do. But our starting point is learning and listening, guided by our intentions and beliefs.
In recent weeks, we’ve been inspired by entrepreneurial sports leaders asking what they can do to bring about more access, more equity and more impact in marginalized communities. In response to those questions, we asked Jennie Trayes, LeagueApps’ Community Manager and former Deputy Executive Director of Row New York, a sports-based youth development organization, to share her ideas for creating an open and inclusive environment for all athletes in your community:
#1: Understand the “why” behind making your program more inclusive.
We all have biases – whether explicit or implicit – and we all have been raised in a country with systemic racism and other biases. Many of you already understand the many benefits of inclusion and diversity. But if you don’t fully understand, now is the time to listen, learn, and do the work.
Diversity can improve every outcome of your organization. Rooting your efforts in not just the morality of accessibility, but also tying that back to helping your organization be more successful on and off the field, is the best way to create a long-term commitment. This report from Deloitte
highlights 8 Powerful Truths on Diversity and Inclusion.
#2: What gets measured gets done.
Assess how your club reflects the city or community where you run your program. Does your club reflect the demographics of the community? What groups are missing? Diversity comes in many forms: think racial, socioeconomic, ability, identity, gender, sexual orientation, and other types of diversity that appear in or around your club.
To find information on your community’s demographics, it may not be enough to look around. Many of our communities and schools are still segregated. For regionally collected indicators or statistics, check in with the office of your local elected officials and your government websites, as well as your local public or academic libraries.
Set goals and track metrics around your diversity, equity, and inclusion goals so that there is transparency and accountability at all levels of the organization.
#3: An inclusive team makes an inclusive program.
It’s important to recognize that the work of becoming an inclusive sports organization is not a box to check. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. The starting line is your team.
Since time and resources are required, it is critical to get buy-in and commitment from leadership – whether that is the board of directors or the CEO/Executive Director. Here are tips for getting leadership buy-in.
Educate yourself and your team by providing ongoing professional development on anti-racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Jennie recommends in-person (when possible!) over online training. Hold everyone at your organization accountable with policies and, more importantly, practices to deal with any signs of discrimination, exclusion, or disrespect. Here are links for training for coaches here and here.
#4: Include leaders from underrepresented communities in the process.
If your vision is to ultimately have an organization that reflects the diversity of your community and where all people feel like they are a meaningful part of your club, you can’t just do the same marketing, promotion, communications, and recruitment.
First, get community leaders on board. This may be leaders of schools, churches, or other non-profit or community organizations. Meet with them, build trust, understand their goals, and assess how you can work together.
Remember, “you cannot be what you cannot see.” Assess your communication messages and assets. Who do they represent? Do they celebrate all members of the community? Does anything need to be translated? Is the language you use inclusive? Get out into new communities and build relationships. Be authentic, be yourself, and approach things with a respectful curiosity. Athlete recruitment has some similarities to staff recruitment – both are important.
Lastly, recognize and hear the voices within your organization. Ensure coaches are providing ample space in small group or all-team settings to provide feedback, there are opportunities for anonymous written feedback, and that athletes and staff of underrepresented communities have access to organizational leadership to provide feedback and have a voice as well.
Look to provide leadership opportunities to young staff from underrepresented communities. This could be owning their own projects, taking the lead on an event for the team, or carrying out their own idea. Be aware of how as leaders we can overlook women and minorities deserving of more responsibility.
#5: Think about your sport and ways to make playing it more accessible.
When you commit to making your club more inclusive, you will probably get athletes who haven’t yet played your sport! There is a chance they haven’t played any sport before, been on a team, or developed the habits innate to being on a sports team. Communicate clearly, be patient, and think outside the box to meet your new participants where they are. Consider new formats (e.g. street hockey), learn to play programs where equipment is provided on-site and new athletes don’t need balls or equipment, and adaptive sports for unified experiences (e.g. sled hockey, seated volleyball, wheelchair basketball). Also consider other ways of meeting the needs of underrepresented communities, such as providing snacks before or after programming, providing transportation or metrocards, sharing translated materials, and building in time for tutoring and school support. Recognize the extra commitment required to create more equity, not just equality.
Best of all, if it feels daunting, you don’t have to go at it alone, as there are great leaders and organizations to learn from: Kelli Stewart from L.E.A.D Atlanta, Geoff Wilson from America Scores LA, AYTEF in Atlanta, and Row New York.
As Tim Ryerson of Ellicott City Soccer Club and the founder of the Get on the Bus initiative offered, “The biggest piece of advice is to take action to overcome barriers. Lots of people talk about ways to make things happen, but you need to act to make things happen!”
This work is never done, so keep learning, iterating, and having the conversation. If you’d like to have it with us and others in the youth and local sports community, please join our NextUp Slack Community!