Multiculturalism In Sport

Culture  refers  to  the  context  in  which  people develop their perspective on, and approach to, life. Numerous cultures exist, representing the multiple geographic  regions  and  racial,  class,  ethnic,  and gender groups across the world. Multiculturalism refers to an approach that integrates these varied perspectives into society and an awareness of how an  individual’s  cultural  background  may  impact personal and professional interactions with others.

In  sport  and  exercise  psychology  (SEP),  until recently, the idea of multiculturalism has received little attention in the literature. However, pioneers in the fields of sport sociology, counseling psychology, and community psychology have highlighted the  importance  of  cultural  variables  in  research and practice settings. Early work involving multiculturalism and sport focused exclusively on racial or ethnic variables as the indicators of a person’s cultural  background.  These  efforts  focused  on identifying and discussing the relevant social issues within each racial or ethnic subgroup, such as lack of  economic  resources,  limited  access  to  training or  employment,  restricted  opportunities  for  sport participation, and lower power equality relative to the dominant group.

Much of the multicultural literature in the counseling field has focused on training professionals to become culturally competent providers of services. These localized trainings, often within the context of graduate programs in psychology, provide educational  modules  or  practical  experiences  aimed at  exposing  trainees  to  the  cultural  practices  of specific client populations. This narrow approach to  training  can  be  contrasted  against  the  broader goals   of   multiculturalism   within   psychology, which instead focuses on awareness of one’s own cultural  heritage  and  the  diversity  of  social  and political  factors  within  society  that  can  contribute  to  a  person’s  cultural  and  personal  identity. Many graduate programs have evolved to include both  localized  and  broader  approaches  in  their curricula  and  applied  experiences.  Within  sport psychology  (SP),  professionals  using  this  lens  in their practice will understand the biases and limitations of their own cultural identity as well as the potential  issues  affecting  their  work  with  clients or  within  particular  settings.  Thus,  multicultural practices de-emphasize the biological determinants of  behavior,  while  prioritizing  environmental  factors. Using these guidelines, practitioners may seek out  (through  interview,  assessment,  or  observation) how each client’s cultural identity will impact the therapeutic relationship.

multiculturalism-in-sport-sports-psychologyMulticultural competencies are becoming more important  every  year  in  a  world  where  information and perspectives can be shared through various  technologies  with  relative  ease.  The  Internet age  has  dramatically  increased  our  exposure  to multiple cultures through access to images and videos,  language  translation,  and  news  reports  from around the world. The many factors that determine one’s  cultural  reference  point  have  contributed  to the rise in popularity of phenomenology and other qualitative approaches in SEP research. The expansion in our exposure to, and appreciation of, multiple cultures has led sport psychologists to consider many additional aspects beyond racial and ethnic background including socioeconomic status (SES), religion,  sexual  orientation,  and  gender,  among others. The inclusion of different aspects of culture in research methodologies may help the field move forward  toward  an  approach  that  does  not  use Western  models  as  the  default  frame  of  reference but instead chooses a perspective and lens appropriate to the question at hand.

Culture  has  become  an  important  frame  of reference  for  designing  research  projects  and applied interventions. From single-case designs to larger-scale  randomized  trials,  evidence  has  been accumulated in support of the idea that culturally targeted approaches are more effective than standardized interventions. These cultural adaptations can range from simple adjustments in language or terminology  to  more  radical  reconceptualizations of  popular  concepts  or  methodologies.  A  simple example of this adaptation is when academic professionals  collaborate  across  borders  to  translate and  reverse  translate  a  research  instrument  for use in cross-cultural research. Another methodology  growing  in  popularity  in  health  and  exercise research  is  called  community-based  participatory  research.  This  approach  to  data  collection, intervention,  and  evaluation  allows  flexibility  in the methods and means of data collection so that researchers  can  adapt  to  contextual  differences present in various cultural regions or among sub groups once the project has started. This flexibility may  include  changing  who  delivers  the  assessments  and  intervention  to  include  local  partners; the language used; or the timing, length, and depth of contact.

Each new generation of students and professionals in SEP is more exposed to, and more educated about,  cultures  beyond  their  own.  Professionals who  desire  to  conduct  ethical  research  and  practice must learn and account for the biases of their own  worldview  while  continuing  to  ask  good questions about the importance of someone else’s views. These developments in our field are but one small part of the growing multicultural nature of our  global  society,  but  they  are  reflective  of  the whole.


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