Post By: Brooke Powers M.S.Ed. | Friday, May 15, 2020

sport psychology performance STRESS lgbtq

For many of us, sport allows us to participate in something that challenges us, helps us join with others, and enjoy the process of improvement and competition. For many of us sport goers, we may hold identities that are common to who is around us, but this may not be the case for other athletes. For those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, pansexual, or asexual to name a few, these identities may not be disclosed to others, especially in sports. Competitive sports have not always been the most welcoming environment, from a historical background of exclusion and oppression to current environments that commonly include homophobic, sexist, or ableist language or exclusionary policies for those who identify in a way that doesn't align with the current binary system we have today (e.g. women's teams or men's teams) (Rankin & Merson, 2012). Anyone working with athletes in any capacity, it is your responsibility to treat others with respect, create safe spaces for all, use inclusive and positive language, and to challenge heteronormative, cisnormative, and/or ableist views that (sometimes unknowingly) hurt and exclude LGBTQ+ athletes.

The first way that sport personnel can support LGBTQ+ athletes on their teams is to model inclusive behaviors by weaving respect, diversity, and inclusion into your team's culture by setting an example and holding others accountable for following accordingly (Play to Win).

One way to do this is by using appropriate language in and out of the sporting context. Our language matters! Whoever said “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was wrong in this case. The frequent use of derogatory language such as “faggot,” “that's so gay,” or “dyke” are common sources of harassment experienced by LGBTQ student- athletes. Language is powerful and has a significant impact on LGBTQ student-athlete success and whether they choose to continue competing in sports. To create a more inclusive environment, we encourage athletics personnel to respond quickly to these instances when they occur on their team or to challenge themselves to also not use derogatory language aimed at LQBTQ student-athletes.

Far too many LGBTQ youth have witnessed or been the targets of anti-LGBTQ treatment or exclusion in and out of sports. They fear discrimination from coaches or officials, which may force them to conceal their identities from their teams (Denison & Kitchen, 2015).

LGBT student athletes stated that they would feel more likely to participate in athletics and less likely to avoid sports in school if they felt comfortable talking to their PE teachers or coaches about LGBT issues, or if their schools enacted comprehensive anti-bullying policies (Gay & Network, 2013). Finding ways to protect and provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ athletes is key to their mental, physical, performance wellbeing and many of these athletes choose not to participate or have been excluded from participation. Participating in policy or procedural creation and adaptation is imperative for advocating for LGBTQ+ athletes as well as working towards policy that is fair, safe, and inclusive of transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, or gender fluid athletes.

Sport plays an enormous role in the lives and identities of young athletes and performers. Though physical health benefits of participation are well known, sport can also instill life skills including accountability, leadership and dedication (Play to Win). Unfortunately, too often a coach's attitudes, behaviors and biases — whether explicit or implicit — can prevent the creation of an environment where LGBTQ youth feel safe disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity (Play to Win). The role a coach, trainer, pro/instructor, or even administrative staff can have in creating an environment of safety, kindness, and inclusivity can encourage a stronger culture. The responsibility falls on us to educate ourselves, challenge our beliefs or fears, use better language, not assume anything about anyone, and to hold accountability for others for fair and just treatment towards others. It is time we continue challenging ourselves and each other to create safer spaces for all athletes, coaches, and fans at all times — on the field, in the locker rooms, in the stands, at home, and in the community.

If you are an athlete, coach, or administrator seeking support or consultation in this area feel reach out to a sport psychology online coach here at Mindurance.

Additional Resources:

This link to the You Can Play Project website that offers 20+ links to resources, education, and support for supporting LGBTQ+ athletes.


Denison E. & Kitchen A. (2015). Out on the Fields: The first international study on homophobia in sport. Nielsen, Bingham Cup Sydney 2014, Australian Sports Commission, Federation of Gay Games.

Gay, L., & Network, S. E. (2013). The experiences of LGBT students in school athletics (Research Brief). New York: GLSEN. https:// www. glsen. org/ binarydata/ GLSEN_ ATTACHMENTS/ file/ 000, 2, 2140-1.

Johnston, L., O'Malley, P. M., & Bachman, J. G. (2004). Monitoring the future: national survey results on drug use, 1975-2003. (1). National Institute on Drug Abuse, US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health.

Rankin, S., & Merson, D. (2012). Campus Pride 2012 LGBTQ national college athlete report. Campus Pride.