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The Sport Information Resource Centre

“At the end of the day, it’s about making sure that the sport sector thrives and is united in offering positive sport experiences for all Canadians. For sport to do good, it must be good. For people to realize the benefits, they have to have an opportunity to play. I think that’s what it’s all about.” Karri Dawson, Senior Director of Quality Sport at the CCES, discusses the new True Sport report and next steps to ensure that sport is living up to its full potential in Canada.

Participating in sport can have many benefits for lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) youth. Sport has the potential to bring joy, distraction and mindfulness that frees LGB youth from worry and fear in other domains of their lives. Sport can also provide important social connections and support for LGB youth as they negotiate coming out.

In this blog, we explain why LGB youth often feel unsafe in sport. Aligned with a movement to understand the nuances of different gender and sexual identities we focus on LGB identities. We also recommend 5 strategies that coaches and other sport leaders should consider to create more inclusive cultures in their teams and organizations for LGB and transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) identities.

Feeling unsafe

Unfortunately, many LGB youth miss the benefits of sport due to a variety of constraints and barriers that lead to a decrease in sport participation compared to heterosexual youth (Greenspan et al., 2017). For LGB youth who remain in sport, their experiences may be negatively affected or they may seek out other activities in which they feel less stigmatized.

Young athletes and participants experience sexual stigma from multiple stakeholders (for example, coaches, teammates, teachers, parents and guardians). Sexual stigma may not necessarily lead to obvious homophobic behaviours and violence toward LGB athletes and participants. However, that stigma is ever-present in their stories. Sexual stigma affects all young athletes and participants, regardless of their sexual identity.

Female athlete struggling with mental health after trainingAn important reason LGB youth don’t participate in sports is because they feel unsafe. Obvious homophobia often happens in locker rooms with young people using harmful language (Greenspan et al., 2019). By linking words such as ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ to either weakness or mistakes, then individuals are displaying homonegative and heteronormative acts. Humour and anti-gay physical aggression are forms of obvious homophobia that create unsafe spaces for LGB athletes (Smits et al., 2021).

How an organization, team or coach prevents or responds to these acts plays a significant role in whether LGB youth feel safe in sport. But not all coaches feel equipped or prepared to support LGB youth. And, organizational resources to guide coaches aren’t always available.

Strategies for coaches and organizations

In an upcoming chapter in the Routlege Handbook of Coaching Children in Sport (in press), we recommend 5 strategies that coaches and other sport leaders should consider to create a more inclusive culture in their teams and organizations. Here, we summarize those strategies and link them to helpful resources:

  1. Group of football fans holding soccer ball coloredRecognize that participation alone doesn’t mean inclusion: Don’t define ‘success’ by how many LGBTQ+ athletes and participants are taking part in sport. Some may be questioning their identities or haven’t disclosed their identities to others. Safety is reflected in formal rules and policies as well as the more subtle ways we shape our interactions (Canadian Women & Sport, 2017). It’s important to develop an environment in which everyone feels safe, respected, equal, and like they can have a positive experience.
  2. Engage in education and self-reflection: Be an ally and do your homework. Learn about sexual stigma and work to find ways to counter these negative beliefs in your own actions and those of others. Remember that we may unintentionally express homonegative attitudes or insinuations within our sport or coaching practice (Krane, 2016).
  3. Develop partnerships: Seek out and build relationships with local and national LGBTQ+, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) advocacy groups. They can help you find the resources and training you need. You can also find resources that are free and easy to download. In many instances, these organizations are already doing this work and you can invest in their efforts (for example, YouthREX 2019Queersmart 2018The Trevor Project 2020).
  4. Recruit and support individuals who identify as LGBTQ+: The intentional recruitment of LGBTQ+ young people as well as LGBTQ+ parents or guardians in leadership positions (for example, as coaches or directors) is a way to build safe and inclusive environments. They can provide diverse perspectives and raise questions about exclusionary policies and practices. However, be careful not to tokenize, that is recruit LGBTQ+ people as a symbolic effort. Be aware not to expect these individuals to contribute inequitably to work being done in your organization. Always being the one to educate and ‘wave the flag’ leads to burnout and fatigue (Trussell et al., 2018).
  5. Evaluate organizational policies and practices: Evaluate if your organization and leaders (for example, coaches) are using inclusive language. Examine if your policies and practices reflect and respect the diversity of the broader community. Consider policies and practices involving statements on websites, inclusive language on registration forms, LGBTQ+-friendly images and promotional materials, special events, and more. Websites and the language used on registration forms are often an important marker for families to decide if an organization will be a welcoming space or not (Trussell, 2020). Secondly, establish clear guidelines and codes of conduct for how instances of abuse will be treated. Athletes, participants and families need to know how they can report incidents of abuse and if they’ll be supported. 

Coaches and other sport leaders play an important role in creating safe, welcoming and supporting contexts for athletes and participants. They can also be important allies in LGBTQ+ young peoples’ lives. All stakeholders in sport need to think critically about inclusion and how to create a more just and equitable sport system that serves all youth. 

Research shows that new immigrants to Canada who participate in sport and physical activity increase their social networks, improve their health, and better integrate themselves into Canadian society. These findings highlight the importance of critically evaluating ‘Intro to Sport’ programs and their effectiveness in welcoming newcomers to Canadian sport.

In Canada’s North, sport development opportunities for youth can be few and far between. Small population sizes, large distances between communities, and limited resources create barriers to sport programming. But partnerships between different sports offer a unique opportunity for youth to reap the benefits of participation in multiple sports. They can also increase participant pools and limit the burden placed on individual sport organizations.

In a recent survey, Quebec women identified 3 primary sources of motivation for participating in hockey: desire for self-accomplishment, enjoyment, and acquisition and mastery of new skills. When coaches and sport leaders are sensitive to these motivations and provide supportive environments with positive role models, they support girls and women’s hockey participation.

The Youth Concussion Awareness Network (You-CAN) is a novel, peer-led program focused on concussion education and awareness for high-school students across Canada. Findings from the use of You-CAN program in school settings show that youth with higher concussion knowledge are more likely to report a concussion to an adult and to provide social support to a peer.

There are 3 things on mental performance consultant Dr. Chantale Lussier’s radar when she thinks about inclusive approaches to mental health: the cultural (individualistic vs. collectivistic), the relational (intrapersonal vs. interpersonal), and the philosophical (secular vs. spiritual). “Mental health is the stuff that happens between us, not just the stuff that happens in us,” says Dr. Lussier.

Canadian soccer superstar Alphonso Davies, who plays for FC Bayern Munich and Team Canada, arrived in Canada as a refugee when he was 5 years old. “Refugees need our support to survive, but also access to education and sports, so they can fulfil their potential and truly thrive,” says Davies, who was appointed as a Global Goodwill Ambassador in 2021.

With limited resources for research initiatives, partnering with external research or community groups can increase a sport organization’s capacity to conduct concussion injury prevention work. Developing initiatives with these partners, such as universities and hospitals, can help sport organizations gain access to trained staff capable of taking on some of the research burden.

Over the past 6 months, we’ve seen ongoing news of alleged maltreatment of athletes who compete at national and international levels. These reports of maltreatment in artistic swimming, gymnastics, bobsleigh and skeleton, and most recently boxing have sparked increased discussion by both the sport sector and the public. These reports also led to action by the Government of Canada and countless calls to meaningfully engage stakeholders, specifically athletes, to collaboratively evolve the sport system for the better.

Sport administrators are working in earnest to ensure that sport is safe, welcoming and inclusive. They’re working to that end despite facing heightened demands in terms of increased mandates, podium expectations, stagnant funding, dropping participation rates and intensified public scrutiny. To make positive changes, we must understand our organizational environments and the needs and interests of our stakeholders. Program evaluation and analysis methods are traditionally used by sport and recreation organizations to gain this understanding. However, real-world data and real-world evidence offer another format for understanding the environment and responding to these needs.

Applying real-world data to sport

computer with data analysisThe health sector has begun to use real-world data (RWD) to inform its practices. RWD is an umbrella term for healthcare data collected from various sources in the routine delivery of care, as opposed to what’s collected from strictly conventional randomized control trials (Birkmeyer, 2021; Makady et al., 2017). These RWD sources include patient, clinical and hospital data, public health and social data, and others (Makady et al., 2017). By looking across these data sources, they can use analytics to transform that aggregated data into real-world evidence (RWE) through analytics. In turn, that results in rich and holistic insights that can be used to inform changes in policy and make meaningful decisions about daily practice (Birkmeyer, 2021).

Sport organizers have traditionally used demographics, registration and retention data to inform decision making. They’ve also conducted formal evaluations after finishing programs and events. Although this information is useful, analysis can take considerable time. Plus, the analysis may only happen annually or at a few key points throughout the year, such as between seasons of play. To this end, the concepts of RWD and RWE offer a different perspective in how the sport sector could interpret data and respond to stakeholders’ needs and trends. Incorporating new and different types of data into analysis could allow sport organizers to bridge the real-world experience of stakeholders and respond in real time.

Stakeholder engagement is one RWD source that could present sport organizers a fuller picture of their organization. Stakeholder engagement is the process of listening to, collaborating with or informing stakeholders. These stakeholders would be the groups of people who have an investment in the organization, such as participants and athletes, parents, guardians, caregivers, coaches, officials, volunteers and administrators, partners and sponsors (Ferkins & Shilbury, 2013). This engagement could happen in various informal and formal ways. For example, those ways could include but not be limited to, surveys, focus groups, interviews, personal conversations, polls or simple one-question check-ins.

The various stakeholders who contribute to stakeholder voices include: •	Athletes and participants •	Parents, guardians and caregivers •	Coaches and sport officials •	PTSOs and clubs •	Staff •	Board members

Considerations for doing stakeholder engagement well

  1. Receive feedback openly, without response

To engage in stakeholder engagement well, it’s essential to truly hear stakeholders’ perspectives. It’s equally important to gain a full understanding about all that the stakeholders have to share. It’s best to listen with open hearts, without judgment, and not respond to what’s offered. It can be difficult to receive constructive or critical feedback. It’s also tempting to correct what seems misunderstood. However, reserving comments and rationale for a later point in the process builds an open environment. In an open environment, all perceptions, both positive and negative, are welcomed. That environment lets stakeholders feel heard, which ultimately builds trust.

  1. Consider the format carefully

Consider who will conduct the stakeholder engagement and what their relationship is to the topic of engagement or the organization. Some stakeholders perceive direct involvement of an organization as a conflict of interest or an influence of power. Others won’t feel safe sharing their honest opinions without assurance of anonymity. Therefore, it can be wise to seek facilitators who are independent to the topic or organization.

  1. Develop a plan for reporting back

Your message is heard above social media network noise in speech bubble copy space background.An important part of doing stakeholder engagement well is to develop a process for reporting back on the feedback received. This can happen in a variety of ways, including circulating a summary report, publishing an article in the organization’s newsletter or on its website, posting videos on social media, holding a town hall, or directly contacting those who participated in the engagement.

An engagement report should include a summary of what was heard and the resulting decisions that have been made. It should also discuss if stakeholders shared feedback that didn’t lead to changes being made. It may also be an excellent opportunity to correct any misconceptions that were raised during the stakeholder engagement. Be sure to also report on timelines of any resulting actions, especially if they’re longer-term timelines.

Without completing this step, stakeholders may assume the organization never intended to act on the feedback received. Reporting back demonstrates transparency and integrity to the process.

Final thoughts

Stakeholders have rich insights to share based on their backgrounds, lived experiences and positions within sport. Compared to traditional data, stakeholder engagement offers the ability to glean insights that may not have been available otherwise. Engagement offers a way to answer the call to become more collaborative and to co-create the sport experience with those who are invested in it. Incorporating stakeholder engagement into data collection and engagement may be a real-world data source that enhances our ability to deliver a better sport environment for all. That is, a sport environment where everyone feels safe, welcomed and included.