Response by PCA's Sports Can Battle Racism Committee
If our goal as youth sports leaders is to give kids the best possible sports experience, then we need to take into account how their lived experience could impact how they feel on our teams. Most adults can say that they experienced a time when someone made assumptions about them that were inaccurate. As adults, it is easier for us to brush those experiences off. However, children do not have the skills yet to understand that others’ assumptions do not actually measure their worth as individuals.
Every adult involved in youth sports should do their best to understand the perspective of each child and how their race, gender expression, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, even religion affect how they are treated by their coaches, teammates, opponents, referees, and other athletes’ parents. Teachers we work with across the country say time and again how much they learn from their students and athletes about how quickly children internalize comments and actions from adults. Children learn about their self-worth through how they are treated by others. Some of those influential comments and actions are obvious, which makes them easy to address. However, those that are more subtle can float under the radar of even the most caring adult.
Race and racism exist whether they are talked about or not. Incidents happen at practices and during games that those of us in the majority might not ever see because we never experienced them directly. But those biases and microaggressions can have a significant impact on how a child perceives their worth as an athlete and as a person. If our intention is to help children develop into the best versions of themselves as athletes and people, then we need to be aware of their experience as they walk through the world, ESPECIALLY when they are not part of the majority.
So we ask, what can we do to better understand the lived experience of the children that we coach and lead? At the very least we can try to look at things from their perspectives. Talk with people who look different than us. Educate ourselves. Think about the words we use when we talk with kids. Ask ourselves if we are making any assumptions about the children we coach that could negatively impact them. Help all of the adults involved in your organization understand the value of these efforts. Work to become an organization that truly helps ALL CHILDREN to be better athletes and better people.