Diversity in Sports

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.

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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.


  1. Butryn, T. M. (2002). Critically examining white racial identity and privilege in sport psychology consulting. The Sport Psychologist, 16, 316–336.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. Schinke, R. J. (Ed.). (2009). Contemporary sport psychology. New York: Nova Science.
  6. Schinke, R. J., & Hanrahan, S. J. (Eds.). (2009). Cultural sport psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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