Talking To Your Players About Race & Culture

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

Coaches & Instructors Lets Use Our Space With Players For Conversations


The first thing that came to mind when I saw the still shot of George Floyd and the officer was racism. The second was basic decency towards humanity. The first was very present, and the latter completely absent.

Most of the time when atrocities like this came across my feed, I would feel sad and I would think how terrible that is, and then just move on with my day, because I didn’t feel the direct affects. After seeing George, I found myself fighting the same behavior of slipping back into my norm. Then I saw a friends’ post. I reached out and asked her, “What is the most powerful thing I can do?”

Her response:

Keep it focused on “BLACK LIVES MATTER” not All Lives Matter. I thought about this out in the backyard as I pulled weeds from our garden. Fortunately I couldn’t stop thinking about it. In fact I became quite aware that at the very same time I was peacefully pulling weeds, people were protesting just 20 minutes away in Denver.

So then I started thinking about what I could do. Everyone has different ways of engaging. Maybe it’s protesting, maybe it’s calling your city every 5 minutes demanding change and reform. Perhaps it’s sharing certain messaging on social media. My circle of influence involves young people I work with through sport. I decided to initiate conversations that allow for them to share what they’re thinking/feeling about current issues and race.

I had 4 small group conversations about the tragedy of George Floyd and the protests with 20 players I work with. I was nervous to bring it up but it had been on my mind all week. What they said was surprisingly insightful:

They were all eager to share their thoughts, not just regurgitation from the news. In fact, many of them were quite aware that many news stations show you what they want you to see, not necessarily the whole picture; their words not mine.

Most of them expressed sadness and a feeling of helplessness. One shared that her stepfather is a large, sweet black man who she worries about. She also has an uncle who is a police officer. Many of them said they aren’t really talking about it within their households because it causes fights with their parents. Many of them I talked to were white. Instead of preaching to them, I simply asked, “What are you guys thinking/feeling about what’s going on?” What are the conversations you’re having about it with family or friends?”

It was apparent they were relieved to talk about it in a space that was not going to get heated or judgmental. They are paying attention and what's happening is affecting them. I want to encourage all of you who are coaches and instructors to talk with your athletes about what’s happening. More importantly, ask and listen. We are mentors first and coaches second if we’re doing it the right way. It’s clear that we might be one of the few adults that are giving them a chance talk about these issues in an open and welcoming space. Lets use our platform and open the door for conversation and change.