Fighting for Diversity & Inclusion in Interscholastic Sports

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Though the U.S. is considered one of the world’s most diverse countries, many areas – including sports – do not reflect the country’s unique diversity. Studies have shown the benefits of diversity, but unfortunately, pursuing ethnic and gender diversity in sports remains an uphill battle.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration program.

How schools and athletic departments can improve diversity and gender inclusion in their sports.

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What the Numbers Say

Between 2010 and 2017, the U.S. interscholastic sports industry grew 55% and became a $15.3 billion market. Yet this hasn’t correlated with a growth in diversity. A study of Texas high school coaches found that 179 out of 253 teams polled employed white coaches. The study also concluded that 77.5% of all coaches employed were male.

Studies also indicate a gender discrepancy in high school sports. According to the 2014-15 high school athletics participation survey, the percentage of participants in basketball were 56% male and 44% female. The gap was bigger in soccer, where the breakdown was 58% male and 42% female. The biggest gap was found in ice hockey, where the split was 70% male and 30% female. The survey did show a 52%/48% male to female breakdown amongst track athletes.

Pros & Cons of Diversity in Sports

Diversity in sports brings both advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, many stereotypes and biases prevent athletes of all backgrounds from engaging and excelling in athletics.

The advantages associated with team diversity include increased creativity, less “herd mentality”, greater efficiency and production, and an increased sensitivity to unfamiliar ideas and accepting different points of view. Conversely, the disadvantages linked to team diversity include a lack of cohesion, increased stress and communication, deteriorating team performance, and reduced effectiveness and productivity.

Analyzing Cultural Diversity in Soccer

A study mapping the relationship between performance and diversity in national soccer teams showed a strong positive correlation. It also showed that teams without international players may struggle to stand out in global competition. This is due to international players having more exposure to diverse training methods and plays and having unique approaches to solving problems and using their skills to address challenges. That said, the study did indicate that differences in culture and political viewpoints can challenge team cohesion.

How Stereotypes Affect Young Athletes

One of the biggest issues facing diversity in sports is dealing with stereotype-driven concepts. Perception, for example, creates issues, as gender stereotypes tend to influence the willingness of parents to equally encourage sons and daughters to pursue sports. Participation stereotypes are also an issue, as individuals are less willing to participate if their backgrounds aren’t well represented by the sport or the team. A third stereotype-driven issue is built on performance, as athletes’ performance decreases if they’re told the other gender is more successful at a particular sport. Finally, self-esteem is a factor, as girls who are criticized for their weight and are dissatisfied with their bodies are less likely to engage in vigorous physical activity.

Increasing Diversity in Sports

To increase diversity in sports, sports departments must first understand the concept and ramifications of cultural competence.

Cultural Competence and Valuing Diversity

Cultural competence involves being aware of personal biases and cultural values, understanding other world views, and having the ability to work with diverse cultures. It’s a concept that should extend beyond athletics, to fields including instruction, hiring practices, program development, and organizational policies and procedures. Valuing diversity, meanwhile, means having a moral obligation to view all individuals as equal, appreciating differences, and offering more than compliance, as diversity is considered essential.

Tips for Sports Departments and Schools

There are several key points that schools and their athletic departments can implement to foster more diversity. Firstly, they can analyze the “deep structure” of the workplace, identifying guiding values and longstanding traditions or methods of operation.

They can also offer diversity training. Student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and other staff members should learn how to interact with, and appreciate, diverse individuals. Training should be specific to each department, mission critical, supported by senior management, and beneficial to the entire organization.

Additionally, schools and athletic departments should fully integrate diversity initiatives. Individuals at all levels of the organization must have responsibilities that support diversity. What’s more, the concept of diversity should be supported across all departments. For instance, even non-sports departments, such as marketing and finance, should support the career goals of diverse individuals to support the career goals of diverse individuals to assume senior administrative positions.

Finally, any diversity initiative should be campus wide. All students and school departments should be influenced by initiatives that are aimed at increasing diversity in sports.


As ethnic minority populations increase in the U.S., the call for greater diversity in sports will become louder and more pervasive. To encourage individuals of all backgrounds to participate in sports, athletic departments, sports associations, and other relevant bodies must recognize the need to begin developing and applying diversity strategies today.

Learn more about Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration program.