Locker Room Talk: How do you make sure the locker room remains a safe, inclusive space for the team as a whole?
The locker room is sometimes seen as a sacred place for teammates – a place where “what is said in the locker room, stays in the locker room”. Although this thought process could lead to athletes feeling open enough to talk freely, it can also lead to a multitude of problems due to it being such an intimate and vulnerable place. The four walls of the secluded locker room often foster team bonding and long term friendships, however, sometimes at the cost of other individuals.
Gossiping, sexist and degrading language, homophobic slurs, and body shaming are just some of the topics that arise within the “team space”. And for those who identify within the LGBTQ+ community, the locker room can become even more of an isolating experience.
Some of these negative slurs are also used on the field as a form of a mental tactic- if I cannot beat my opponent physically, I will break them mentally. It has been ingrained in our minds that this type of negative speech is a “part of the game”- calling opponents “fags” or that they “throw like a girl” in an attempt to throw off their game. Ultimately, this type of behaviour maintains and reproduces the problematic attitudes towards the LGBTQ+, and other marginalized communities.
How can you help create a positive atmosphere? All it takes is putting up a Rainbow Pride sticker, or a positive space poster around the change rooms/athletic facilities. Let it be known that you stand for equality and inclusion, and verbally encourage your athletes to follow suit. Be supportive to every type of athlete, no matter their background, gender, or sexual orientation. Some coaches have players sign an “accountability contract” setting the boundaries regarding vocabulary on race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender, holding every player accountable for their actions.
We have taken many positive steps forward towards inclusion in sports, however, it is clear that these negative, hyper-masculine attitudes are still rampant within athletic communities.