Diversity in Team Sports

Diversity in Team Sports Is A Great Thing!

Diversity: A Definition

As one scrolls the internet, one sees numerous definitions of diversity. The Oxford English Dictionary defines diversity as the ‘practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.’

Down the road, Cambridge defines diversity as a ‘situation in which many different types of things or people are included in something.’

My favourite definition, however, is from Ferris University in Michigan, United States. They state that diversity is ‘the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs.’

The point is that diversity is multifaceted. It’s both visible and invisible. Michigan and the others could also have added personality, values, interests, and other attributes.

Why Embrace Diversity in Team Sports

Diversity is about the visible and invisible characteristics that make us different. These differences allow us to see the world differently from the others in the locker room. Handled correctly and professionally, these various perspectives are highly advantageous.

The NSW Government and the international consulting firm McKinsey found that diverse workplaces produce better outcomes across many areas. The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport also found that diversity in team sports enhances performance. In addition to improving performance, diverse teams lead to the following:

  • Increased productivity.
  • Better decision-making.
  • Improved team member well-being by ensuring everyone ‘fits in’.
  • Greater innovation.
  • Creative problem-solving.
  • Healthy and constructive conflict

Sports teams that embrace diversity enable a wide range of perspectives and experiences. When individuals from different backgrounds come together, they bring unique ideas and approaches to training, strategy and problem-solving. This can lead to more creative solutions and innovative tactics and give the team a competitive advantage. But it’s not just diverse backgrounds. Diverse sports teams value the contributions and differences of everyone, from the most junior rookie to the seasoned campaigner; they respect each other, see differences as strengths, and challenge biases.

Bringing Unity To The Sports Team And Community

We live in an increasingly global community. Play by the Rules, developed by the South Australian government, highlights that 25% of the Australian sporting population is born overseas. 50% have one parent from another country, 260 languages are spoken across sports teams, one in five has a disability, and over 50% are women and girls. The sporting landscape is extraordinarily gender, culturally, and linguistically diverse.  

Diversity in team sports fosters a sense of unity and mutual respect among team members. By working alongside individuals from different cultures, races and genders, athletes can learn to appreciate and celebrate differences rather than letting them create barriers. This can improve team communication and foster a more cohesive unit. Enhancing diversity within the team enables the team to more broadly reflect the community it represents, increasing engagement and buy-in of fans. Diverse sports teams can become role models for inclusivity and acceptance. Athletes from under-represented groups can inspire others to pursue their dreams and break down stereotypes. 

Diverse Teams And The Neuroscience

Embracing diversity does not come naturally. While our conscious brain knows its importance, our unconscious brain quickly categorises input to avoid mindful thinking, save energy, and increase efficiency. Our brain prefers the familiar and has an unconscious bias to like individuals who look, sound, and act like us. Those who are not like us can be registered as a threat. This happens within 200 milliseconds of meeting someone.

Our unconscious bias significantly limits our ability to empathise with others and embrace diversity. The good news is that self-awareness, education and curiosity can counter this pre-encoded condition of our brain and challenge our predisposition. 

To overcome cultural differences, language barriers, and unconscious biases, sports organisations must prioritise education, communication and training programs that promote diversity and inclusion. 

Being Excluded From The Team

Dr Kipling Williams from Purdue University, Indiana, highlights that being excluded threatens our fundamental human needs, such as belonging and self-esteem. Being excluded activates our pain system, and the pain we feel is experienced in the same part of the brain as physical pain. While physical pain feels different, the networks processing it in the brain are the same. Feelings of exclusion from the team are likely to cause performance to suffer, impacting well-being, engagement, feelings of worthiness, and even our immune system. 

Diversity on the world sporting stage (using gender as an example)

A great example of diversity in world sport is provided by looking at gender differentials. In 2019, European Parliament research found that 85% of sports media coverage was devoted to male athletes. At the same time, men wrote 90% of sports articles. But is the tide changing in terms of public and, by association, media interest?

In 2014, the Matildas (Australia’s Women’s Soccer Team) drew 2,583 fans against Brazil. Fast-forward less than ten years, and at the 2023 World Cup, the Matildas drew 75,784 at Sydney’s Stadium Australia—a far cry from the 2500-odd who showed up to watch them a decade earlier.

In 1991, about 500,000 watched the Women’s World Cup matches live. That number grew to 2 million in 2023. The men’s World Cup attracted 3.4 million in 2022. The women are catching up. Disappointingly, women’s prize money for the cup is still a quarter of men’s. 

In Conclusion

Diversity in team sports is a powerful force that can drive success, unity and positive change. It also reflects the increasingly diverse community we all live in. By embracing differences and creating an environment where all athletes feel valued and respected, sports teams can unlock their full potential and achieve greatness on and off the field. Embracing diversity and a more inclusive sporting culture can lead to a brighter future for all sporting codes and the communities they represent. 

Diversity At Condor Performance

Huge credit needs to go to our General Manager, David, and Founder, Gareth, for insisting on diversity as they have slowly added to the team of sport and performance psychologists here at Condor Performance. We have the broadest range of genders, locations, ages, sporting knowledge, and ethnic backgrounds of any sports psychology consultancy we know.

The advantages of this are both internal and external. Within the team, these differences allow for some fantastic brainstorming and professional development. Externally, those contacting us to work on their mindset and mental toughness have many options when considering which type of psychologist they may want to work with. If you’d like to chat with someone about how one of our diverse team members could help you with your performance, get in touch via this form.

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