The concept of diversity encompasses a broad range of qualities and characteristics that distinguish people from one another. Diversity is used broadly to refer to demographic characteristics including, but not limited to, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, ability status, age, national origin, religious beliefs, and education. Diversity is important for a number of reasons. It allows a person to view issues and problems from multiple standpoints, drawing from different experiences, perspectives, knowledge, and connections. Rather than viewing the world from a single-focus lens, a person is able to expand views and consider multiple options. Diversity moves people beyond their ethnocentric and egocentric viewpoints, allowing them to not only learn about others’ experiences and backgrounds but also more about themselves.
Sport is a diverse environment that includes individuals from different cultural and racial backgrounds. Sport and exercise psychology professionals work with and study these diverse groups of athletes, exercisers, and coaches. The Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), an international, multidisciplinary, professional organization that offers certification to qualified professionals in the field of sport, exercise, and health psychology, outlines seven ways in which AASP actively promotes the respect and value of human diversity within its members and through professional actions. AASP members (1) do not discriminate; (2) do not tolerate remarks that reflect disrespect for individuals based on physical or cultural bias; (3) promote human diversity in research; (4) promote individuals with different backgrounds to join and participate in the organization; (5) seek education and training in multicultural methods to best serve the diverse clientele in sport and exercise psychology consulting; (6) promote equity and multicultural representation in AASP publications, conference presentations, and professional activities; and (7) demonstrate attitudes of respect and positive regard toward all colleagues, students, and clients.
Given the diversity among sport and exercise participants, it is surprising that until recently, diversity and multicultural perspectives have received only minimal consideration in the field of sport and exercise psychology. Much of the scholarly attention has focused on race or ethnicity and gender, with little attention devoted to other identities or the intersection of the varied identities. Sport and exercise psychology has traditionally been practiced from an ethnocentric, white male perspective. It is only recently that researchers have begun to seriously address diversity issues. For professionals and students in the field, it is imperative that there is an understanding of the histories and social experiences of the various cultural and identity groups with which we work or will work with in the future; the delivery, implementation and monitoring of sport and exercise psychology skills and interventions requires an understanding of cultural diversity.
Some research has addressed information about different cultural groups in relation to sport psychology consulting. Much of the earlier work in this area, however, relied on stereotypes of racial and ethnic groups and offered rudimentary recommendations of how to work with athletes of color. The early work in this area also treated athletes of color as exotic others, placing whiteness as the normative, privileged position. This work, however, served as the foundation for much of the recent discussion and work in this area. Recent research in this area, and in particular the work in cultural sport psychology, has begun to explore the issues pertinent to cultural and racial or ethnic diversity among athletes and multicultural approaches to sport psychology interventions. Research has also examined white racial identity and privilege in sport psychology consulting. Several researchers have noted the need for consultants to confront their personal feelings, experiences, and attitudes toward race by critically examine how their biases and assumptions influence their interactions with athletes of color.
In line with traditional psychology, gender research in sport and exercise psychology has historically focused on biologically based sex differences and neglected the study of complex gender issues and relations. More recently, researchers have stressed the need to consider athletes, exercisers, and coaches in the social context and work to understand the complexities of gender in sport and exercise.
In order to provide appropriate services to all individuals, as recommended by AASP and the American Psychological Association, Division 47, students and professionals in sport and exercise psychology should have training in issues that relate to diversity, culture, and identity. This training typically occurs in a student’s graduate program in sport and exercise psychology, and requires that students take at least one course related to multiculturalism or social basis of behavior. Many have argued that multicultural training will enhance sport and exercise psychology effectiveness. Sport and exercise psychology consultants would benefit from an understanding of people of different cultures from their own. However, multicultural competency requires a heightened awareness of cultural influences in society, an ability to work with individuals from different cultural and racial backgrounds, content knowledge and intervention skills that are relevant to cultural groups, and skills to communicate across cultures. Such competencies will most likely not occur from one graduate course related to the social basis of behavior. Rather, an integrated model of multicultural training is recommended which involves integration and application of multicultural issues within each course in the curriculum. There is a need to move beyond delineating diversity as a special topic or special population toward integration of the social aspects of sport into all areas of sport and exercise psychology, including anxiety, motivation, personality, injury, and group dynamics.
- Butryn, T. M. (2002). Critically examining white racial identity and privilege in sport psychology consulting. The Sport Psychologist, 16, 316–336.
- Gill, D. L., & Kamphoff, C. S. (2010). Gender and cultural diversity. In J. M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology (6th ed., pp. 417–439). New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Kontos, A. P., & Arguello, E. (2005). Sport psychology consulting with Latin American athletes. Athletic Insight: The Online Journal of Sport Psychology, 17(3). Retrieved from http://www.athleticinsight.com/ Vol7Iss3/LatinAmerican.htm
- Kontos, A. P., & Breland-Noble, A. M. (2002). Racial/ ethnic diversity in applied sport psychology: A multicultural introduction to working with athletes of color. The Sport Psychologist, 16, 296–315.
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- Schinke, R. J., & Hanrahan, S. J. (Eds.). (2009). Cultural sport psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.