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Addressing sexuality in sport: a guide for athletes and coaches

The world of sports is often seen as exemplifying positive values and morals. Conversely, it also has the ability to manifest disagreeable values and unprincipled behaviours that split the society. Discrimination that is grounded upon gender and/or sexual identity impacts the fundamental veracity of sport. Comprehending gender and sexuality through the lens of sports reveals a feeble evolution of discriminatory practice.

Interaction is a fundamental part of sports. Coach-athlete relation(s) are moulded by particular assumptions and notions about coaching-teaching. Interactions between a coach and athlete are multifaceted because sport makes a number of and at times competing demands on the athletes. Different individual characteristics increases this intricacy of a coach athlete relation. Yet within this multidimensional context, gender relations are constant and tricky, particularly with respect to coaching.

In this article we’ll go over how we can address sexual as well as gender identity in sports.

Stereotyped Gender Roles in Sports:

Sex refers to the physical body of a man or a woman and gender refers to socially outlined features of masculinity or femininity. It’s noted that gender affects every individual and at times the assumptions made by the society in relation to an individual’s gender are entwined with the assumptions made in relation to their sexuality. Sports leadership such as coaching is a highly male dominated arena. This indicates that women athletes are likely to be coached by a male and given the pervasiveness of detrimental ideologies enclosing male and female athletic capabilities, this affects how male coaches train their athletes and thus, their bond with their female athlete.

The coach sets the tone on and off the field and it’s their attitudes and behaviour that set the tone for the team or individual environment and this shapes the athlete’s experience. In order for the coach to become more gender inclusive or neutral, he or she needs to remember that the needs of a male and female athlete differs and thus it’s important for every coach to tailor their coaching programs according to these needs. As coaches it’s also important to remember that male and female athletes have different needs and expectations within three areas i.e., memory, communication and relationships.

Sexual Orientation and Sports:

Fear and lack of comprehension about various sexual orientations and gender identities steer to harassment, discomfort, isolation, and at times even violence. Such behaviours and feelings establish precarious environments that impede learning, cost friendships, and harm teams as well as individual athletes and coaches.

Not only are gay and lesbian athletes susceptible, but gay and lesbian coaches as well. Both LGBTQ athletes and LGBTQ coaches have known to keep their identities a ‘hush-hush’, usually as they dread being discriminated against or harassed. One may also feel that by declaring their sexual identity it may divert attention from their triumphs and put the public eye on their sexuality rather than their team or their athletic performance.


As coaches the role goes beyond just training athletes in their athletic ability.

  • As coaches it’s important that they acknowledge every and any identity that an individual may identify with and monitor our own attitude and actions.

  • It’s also the coach’s role to discuss homophobia and lesbianism with and address anti- gay- lesbian actions and attitudes among athletes.

  • It’s also important to be open, available and prepared to talk with athletes who are questioning their sexual orientation.

As athletes it’s important that they understand that making someone feel inferior just because they are different from our idea of ‘normal’ is no reason to make them feel different and robbing them off their identity. As a sports community it’s important that we are open and inclusive.

Role of a sport psychologist

Developing programmes that offer gender sensitivity in sports is also a very important part of a sport psychologist’s role.

Athletes, particularly today, symbolise far more than the jersey they put on. They have the capability to not only epitomise national or state identity, but many others such as: race, gender, class, and even their intersections. And when representation is pursued by triumph, there is often imitation. And it’s this ability of the world of sports to create role models for our society at large. It goes without saying that our hopes and wants seem closer when one identifies with a champion. All coaches, parents, fans and officials have a role to play in making sports a safe, upholding and accepting place for all athletes of every level.

By advocating LGBTQ inclusion, we sustain and endorse the ideals of fairness and equality and level the playing field for LGBTQ athletes in sport.

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