We use cookies to give you the best experience and to help improve our website. By using our website you are accepting our cookies.  Learn More

UK Coaching Team
Duty to Care Guide

A Guide to Diversity

One of six guides to support you on your Duty to Care journey. Learn how to apply the principles from the diversity pillar

Each guide in this series introduces the pillar that the guide covers, explaining the importance to participants, coaches, and coaching practice through key messages, practical tips, videos, downloads, and templates. Take the next step and consider how you can apply the principles from the diversity pillar to improve your coaching and your participants’ experiences.

In this guide:  

  • What is diversity? How understanding diversity allows us to celebrate and embrace the rich differences that it brings to our coaching practice and programmes.
  • Intersectionality. Understand what intersectionality is and why it’s so important.
  • Coaching the person in front of you. Explore how to create connections with participants to help diversity thrive.
  • How communication influences diversity. Learn how good communication skills can remove barriers for people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Creating a welcoming environment. Understand how creating diverse and inclusive environments can increase rapport with participants.
  • Engaging diverse communities. Explore how to build relationships with diverse communities.
  • Unconscious bias. Recognise how unconscious bias can impact on the participants you coach.

Definition of Diversity

The practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.

Why is diversity important in the coaching environment?

Diversity in sport is important because it promotes creativity, unique perspectives, diversity of thought, new opportunities, and ultimately good sportsmanship."


Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving. Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations.

What is Diversity?

‘The practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, age, and other characteristics. Diversity could simply be identified as any group of difference.’

Alternatively, it could be simply stated as: ‘The state of being diverse; variety.’ (Oxford Dictionary.)

Different types of diversity

Inherent diversity: This refers to the characteristics a person has inherited from when they were born, such as:

  • nationality
  • religious background
  • sex (gender at birth*)
  • age
  • sexual orientation
  • race/ethnicity
  • socio-economic background
  • disability.

*Gender identity can change throughout a person’s life stages.

Acquired diversity: Acquired diversity is made up of the characteristics people have acquired throughout the different experiences in their lives, such as:

  • cultural fluency
  • generational savvy
  • technological literacy
  • cross-functional knowledge
  • language skills.

Diversity and the law

When working on increasing the diversity of the coaching workforce and participant base within your organisation or club, it is advisable and good practice to have a good understanding of the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act 2010 is the UK’s primary legal framework for protecting individual rights and furthering inclusion and diversity whilst making it illegal for businesses and public services to treat people with a protected characteristic unfairly.

What are the protected characteristics?

The legislation covers nine groups and makes it illegal to discriminate against someone with the following protected characteristics:

  • Age.
  • Disability.
  • Gender reassignment.
  • Marriage and civil partnership.
  • Pregnancy and maternity.
  • Race.
  • Religion or belief.
  • Sex.
  • Sexual orientation.

What are the different types of discrimination?

Discrimination can be defined as treating someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic and applies to both verbal, written, and physical action (e.g. gestures and behaviour).

The different types of discrimination covered under the act are:

  • Direct: including by association or perception: treating someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic they have, are linked to, or are thought to have.
  • Indirect: where you have a rule, policy, or practice that applies to everyone but would particularly disadvantage people with a protected characteristic. For example, asking all employees to work weekends would disadvantage those of certain religions.
  • Victimisation: treating someone less favourably because they have made or supported a discrimination complaint.
  • Harassment: unwanted conduct which makes someone feel humiliated, intimidated, or offended because of a protected characteristic.

To create environments that are free from discrimination, there are a number of things you can do as a coach to prevent bad practice within your session and hold people accountable if their behaviour is deemed unsatisfactory.

Having an Equal Opportunities Policy and an Equity Policy, which are shared with all participants, can set out clear guidelines of what behaviour is expected from everyone and the consequences if an individual ignores the policy. (For support with and templates for writing policies for your organisation, please visit Safe Practice Resources.)

Coach, volunteer, committee member, participant, and parent Codes of Conduct can be a very useful tool in communicating what behaviour is expected of everyone during and outside of practice sessions and competitions.

Consider making a reference in the organisation’s constitution that states how all club members will be treated fairly and equitably can once again reinforce the behaviours of everyone involved.

To further reinforce your commitment to inclusion, you can develop and publish an Inclusion Statement that supports the Equity Policy.

The statement can include the organisation’s commitment to inclusion and can be added to all promotional resources and easily shared on websites/social media platforms.

Communicating to everyone within your organisation who the Welfare Officer is and how to contact them is essential in further supporting a safe and respected environment for all participants, as it gives participants the opportunity to have a voice and feel cared for.

Seeking development opportunities around diversity and inclusion will enhance your understanding and knowledge of how to support and include everyone within your setting.

Communicate and listen to the participants within your coaching sessions, as they can give you invaluable feedback on their needs and how you can ensure they feel fully included.

If you’re unsure of where to find any of the above, please contact your National Governing Body, Active Partnership, or Local Authority, who can direct you to the appropriate resources or support. Club Matters can also provide some useful information.

Diversity recognises that everyone is different. Some of these are things we can see easily, but some aren’t so easy to spot. This is called the invisible factor.

Visible diversity: These are characteristics that are easily seen, such as:

  • race
  • sex (gender*)
  • certain disabilities/impairments such as being a wheelchair user.

*Gender is not always visible and is often assumed based on our assumptions and previous experiences.

Invisible diversity: These are characteristics that cannot be seen easily, such as:

  • mental health conditions
  • sexual orientation
  • religion
  • certain disabilities/impairments
  • Socio-economic background.


Diversity is the combination of people’s different characteristics, attributes, experiences, and backgrounds.

Think about your community. does your group/organisation reflect the diversity of your local community?



Intersectionality is a principle that helps us to understand how individual identities and characteristics overlap and intersect to create different levels of discrimination or disadvantage.

This is important when coaching as it will help you to truly understand the uniqueness of people’s experiences. Intersectionality provides an important lens for a coach as you shouldn’t focus on one characteristic.

Everyone has different identities and experiences and in order to meet the needs of individuals, we must understand what makes them who they are and not try to look solely at each characteristic separately or make assumptions based on visible diversity.

Did you know that it is often stated that we are the ‘average’ of the five people that we spend the most time with? They influence us at an unconscious and conscious level and have an impact on our beliefs and behaviours.

Who are the five people you spend the most time with? This could be through coaching, physical activity/sport, home, work, education, and social interaction.

Have a go

Take a sheet of paper and create six columns and six rows. At the top of each column, write down the following:

  • Sex (gender).
  • Ethnicity.
  • Disability.
  • Age.
  • Religion.

In the left column, write the names of the five people (keep the first one blank).  


How do you think the people that you interact with influence you? Having a wide and diverse group of people that you interact with will allow you to deepen your understanding. Having this awareness will help you to develop diverse thinking and considerations in your coaching practice.

A privilege is a right, benefit, advantage, or immunity that is granted to or enjoyed by a select group of people but not by others.

People with privilege belong to groups that enjoy specific social advantages, perks, or degrees of prestige and respect. These privileged social identities are derived from positions that historically held a dominant position over others. These include white men, heterosexual men, people from certain religions, and the wealthy.

Many people find the concept of privilege difficult to comprehend because, when we talk about privilege, we picture instant wealth and tangible benefits for anyone who has it, whereas in reality a lot of people who enjoy privileges in some areas of their lives experience difficulties in others.

Understanding privilege requires you to make an intentional effort to consider other, underprivileged perspectives. Then what?

You can acknowledge your privilege despite the fact you cannot get rid of it. When you bring privilege into the open and talk about it in a sensitive manner, you show support and empathy with others who do not share the same privileges as you.

Having ‘white privilege’ doesn't make your life easy but understanding it can make you realise why some people's lives are harder than they should be. There is nothing but a benefit to understanding our own privileges, white and otherwise."

John Amaechi

Why is intersectionality important in coaching?

Intersectionality is an important concept to understand and have awareness of because individuals are not one-dimensional. We can’t be put into neat boxes and checked off. We have many layers to our identities, and those layers can present various challenges, barriers, and considerations to coaching practice.

The principle of intersectionality recognises that people are unique and as such all have different and differing characteristics. A person may be disadvantaged or may feel disadvantaged because of their characteristics; consideration needs to be given to multiple characteristics that an individual might have. This is intersectionality.

As a coach, you must be mindful that individuals may have greater challenges because of their characteristics and your role is to support and understand how you can help. It’s important to understand the individual through regular communication. This will help you get a better understanding of their needs from multiple perspectives, and what you can do to support through your coaching.

If you focus on one characteristic when coaching an individual, this may make them feel only partly included in the activities you are offering. You may also be creating a barrier without knowing this.

If you get to know more about the participants you coach, as people first, then the less likely they are going to feel isolated and segregated, and the more likely they are to feel as if they belong and are valued in the sessions, and ultimately that they are not being discriminated against. This will also enhance the experience the participant has within your organisation as their diverse needs are catered for.

Taking a holistic approach ensures that you consider the whole person and prevents you from focusing on a single characteristic.

If you truly want to have equality and equity for all, an intersectional approach ensures you support the individual and the barriers and the challenges they face and are ready to apply this knowledge to your coaching.


Take a moment to consider the individuals you know. How well do you know all your participants?

Select three people from your coaching group and build up a better picture of who they are as people. We have provided an example to help you start. Look back over the inherited, acquired, visible and invisible characteristics to help you.


What factors influence how well you know a person in your group?

  • Have they been attending your sessions for a long time?
  • Do they regularly attend?
  • Are they talkative?
  • Do they look like you?
  • Can you see their visible characteristics?


How will you use your new awareness to connect with and better understand the needs of the individuals you coach?


Intersectionality highlights how we identify different characteristics and see people as a collective (the whole person) whilst also seeing their different characteristics individually.

A characteristic of the individual may not have been considered, planned for, or seen. These are the intersections that can make it more challenging for an individual to engage and participate.

As a coach, you need to support participants in your sessions and ensure that you consider their wider needs. This includes thinking about:

  • your coaching session design
  • planning and venues
  • timings
  • the equipment required
  • the language you use
  • the approaches you take.

In the example above, you can see that as we know more about the woman, there are other characteristics you need to consider to successfully engage her in the activity and support her during the session. Access to the venue and the cost to participate are two factors that you may not be aware of as an issue or considered initially.

How can action be taken with intersectionality in mind?

  • Increase your awareness and understanding of privilege, discrimination, and intersectionality, and encourage other coaches and participants to do the same.
  • Avoid oversimplified language. Move away from language that seeks to define people by a single identity or group.
  • Listen. Hear from the voices of different people and their unique experiences. Listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, and read blogs that are from people with intersectional identities.
  • Avoid assumptions. Based on perceived identity, be curious about participants and fellow coaches and listen to their stories. There is always room to learn more from each other. Listening to lived experiences is an invaluable method of learning.


How well do you know the participants that you are coaching?

Have you ever considered participants’ stories and lived experiences to give you more knowledge and awareness of different backgrounds and increase your understanding of diversity?


Coaching the Person in Front of You

Create a connection with the people you coach to ensure that they feel valued, wanted and more than a number."

UK Coaching

Coaching the person in front of you can help create environments where diversity can thrive.

Applying the three considerations for each participant when you coach ensures that you meet them where they are at during each and every coaching session.

  1. Know who they are as a person before who they are as a participant or performer.
  2. Understand stages of development and how this influences an individual.
  3. Coach the person, not the sport.

Know who they are

Functional ability: Looking at what a person can do. How do they move? What ability level are they? Do they have an impairment? When does a participant’s menstrual cycle have an impact on training? How does a participant prefer to communicate, and do you need to adapt your own styles? What is their experience of the physical activity/sport? Are they a confident participant? What is their training age?

An individual who is returning to physical activity after time away will respond differently to an individual who has been training and practising with you for a number of years.

How are they feeling? What motivates a participant? What are their wants, why are they attending your sessions? How do they receive information and learn? How can you adapt your coaching style and approach for different participants? Do you deliver your sessions the same way to a group each time? How do you check in with the individuals within your group before a session? How confident are they and how do we improve that confidence? How have past experiences affected their view on sport? What makes a participant feel anxious? What goals and achievements does the participant want to achieve?

How people feel can be the same over time or influenced by their immediate circumstances and surroundings. A bad day at work or school can influence energy levels at practice. A person who has more responsibility at home may arrive distracted because of a situation.

Socially: How does a participant interact with others? What environments do they feel more comfortable in? Who do they prefer to take part in activities with? Does who is attending the session affect whether they attend? Do they only attend the session of their friends do? Are they religious and can religious holidays have an impact on their ability to participate? Are they a member of the LGBTQ+ community and do they feel safe attending sport clubs? Have they had poor experiences previously? Is social interaction the reason they attend? Do you create opportunities for participants to interact and connect with each other? Consider ‘social time’. Is a person the same gender as they were assigned at birth? Does the participant feel accepted within the environment you create as a coach? Does the participant feel like they are part of the team and that everyone accepts them for who they are?

It's important that when a participant ‘walks through the door’ to your sessions that you make the environment welcoming and safe so they can be themselves, feel valued and cared for without fear of being judged, creating a sense of belonging for your participants.

You should meet the individual where they are at, not be intrusive and push a person to find out more about them. It is entirely up to the participant how much information they choose to disclose. The safer they feel, the more they trust you, the more they will share. Remember, if a participant shares something personal, it is important to treat them with respect to maintain the relationship.

A coach working with a competitive women’s team noticed at the beginning of sessions that the players were slow to start and often chatted during the warm-up. Initially, this was a frustration for him as he thought that they were distracted and didn’t value his sessions, the effort he had put into planning, and the importance of a warm-up.

Speaking to a number of the players, he aired his concerns openly and in a relaxed way. The players explained they were busy with their home lives and commitments, and now only see each other at training. As such, catching up and connecting were important to them.

This wasn’t something the coach had considered. After speaking to a number of senior players in the group, a few changes occurred. The facilities were opened earlier, with a 30-minute personal preparation time before each session and the coach introduced warm-ups with more communication and opportunities to connect into the sessions.

Creating time and space to connect is key!

Understanding the stages of development

It’s important to remember that the stages of development are not sequential and are not limited to young people (growth and maturation). We all progress at different stages and these are unique to individuals and their context.

A really simple way to consider the non-linear nature of development is to consider a participant returning to training after a break. This may be after a season break as they enter pre-season, returning after an injury or post-childbirth. The level that they last performed at will not be maintained.

Factors to consider which can influence an individual’s development journey:

  • Physical (injury, acquired impairment, long-term health conditions, exposure to physical preparation).
  • Biological (growth and maturation, stature, weight).
  • Socio-cultural (parental/carer support, peers, school experiences, gender bias, social media, religion, clothing attire).
  • Environmental (training volume, training age).
  • Situational (access to a coach, access to training facilities, opportunities to compete).
  • Psychological (confidence, motivation, goals).

Two significant aspects to consider across the participant’s lifecycle are life events and the teenage years.

Life events

Life is busy! Things change, people change and circumstances change, and these all impact our development in a chosen activity or sport.

Returning after time away from a sport, returning after a college break, re-joining a class with friends, starting a new job and having less time to practise and compete, having a baby, returning from an injury, time away for health reasons, reduction in training because of family commitments and re-starting an activity with your children that you haven't participated in since you were at school are all life events that may mean someone's development may have slowed, stopped, or gone backwards, and that they need to regain confidence, re-learn skills, get back in the practice groove, re-evaluate their goals and set new, more realistic and more time-relevant targets.

It's important to know that you can meet the needs and aspirations of your participants. Knowing about their experiences, life story and confidence levels can help you ensure that you can provide a positive experience, coach them in a way that they would like, and ensure that your programme and sessions meet their current needs.

Avoid making comparisons with other participants' current levels and referring back to a participant's previous performance. Recognise where they are not and focus on what they need to do to progress.

Always make your sessions challenging, ensuring that the support that you provide is optimum for the individual. What can be motivating and inspirational for one person may be overwhelming for another. Don't assume when they return that it will be the same for them as it was previously.

Speaking of motivation, always remember to celebrate the small wins. The 'little' steps show progress and movement and help remind people that they are progressing.

When setting goals, ensure that they are realistic and help your participants to accept their current level of performance. It can be difficult, at times, to accept that our standards have dropped from a previous performance. Remind them of their small wins, recognise these and celebrate their progress.

A well-known former England Netballer attended a ‘back to netball’ session with her friends from school. She really enjoyed the session and felt the freedom of playing the sport again after a long time out. She performed so well, but the coach didn’t recognise her!

After the session she came over and praised her effort and energy, adding that she had good skills and should consider joining the competitive team. Her friends burst out laughing. It was an awkward moment for the coach: what had they said wrong? They had connected, given praise, and been positive.

The player explained who she was. The coach was mortified and embarrassed initially, before the player said it was fine and they laughed off the situation. What if the coach had taken time to ask the new person to the session whether they had played before? Would this have made a difference?

A famous mountain bike rider decided to try her hand at road biking. At the first session, the coach recognised the former Olympian and assumed that they had lots of experience. The rider was very nervous and the attention she was getting was adding to this.

The coach expected her to have all the basic skills and asked her to demonstrate. During the session, the rider fell off, slipped her gears, and rode into the back of another cyclist.

At the end of the session, she explained that she had never ridden on roads before, and actually felt the pressure of the groups’ expectations. How would you have acted as the coach? Would you have made the same assumptions?

The teenage years

If you support young people, you must constantly consider that they are growing and maturing. Their body stature and body composition are changing as they become young adults. Whilst everyone transitions through the same stages, when these occur and how long they occur for is different for each individual.

It’s important to consider their psychological and emotional development, in addition to their physical development. You coach the whole person.

Growth is the increase in size of the body or its parts and includes height, body mass and leg length.

Maturation is the progress towards the mature adult state. Maturation can vary in its timing (when it happens) and tempo (how fast it occurs). This has physical, emotional, social, and psychological elements.

Development is the complex interaction between physical, cognitive, and psychological development and leads to an increase in the complexity of functional movement, decision-making, perceptions, and skill progression. It is the capacity and skill of a person to function. It isn’t age-dependent and is continuous throughout the life cycle.

The experience of puberty varies for the individual (you may already have heard the terms early or later maturer) and is the time of sexual maturity.

For girls, this occurs between 10-14 years of age, and for boys between the ages of 12-16 years. Significant changes occur in the body that may have an impact on development.

An individual can grow centimetres in days and the implications on their movement and coordination can considerable. Whilst the bones have grown, the muscles and tendons are playing catch up; individuals can become extremely tight and subject to injuries.

From a skill development perspective, their centre of gravity will have changed, as well as their body composition and limb length, which will all impact on their coordination and perception as they adjust.

These can affect their timing. They can be seen as clumsy and might struggle to use a racket or bat as they become used to their new limb length. Adolescent awkwardness is real. In addition, hormones are raging, and they are making sense of the world, challenging boundaries, exploring their sexuality, culture and beliefs, and are striving for independence. A challenging time for the individual, and with all these complexities in play it is no surprise that the journey isn’t linear!


Read the following two scenarios and consider how the factors may benefit or challenge their development.

Can you see how these could be influencing both boys?


Participant one, Steve, has been dancing for six years, since he was five years old. His mum competed and his older sisters were already attending the club. He has had a growth spurt over the summer, shooting up 5cm in two months. His knees hurt and his mum took him to the doctors who diagnosed Osgood Slatters.

The doctor knows the family and suggests that Steve trains as much as he feels able to and then rests. She realises that a long lay-off from dancing would be a challenge for Steve.

Participant two, Mitch, is Steve’s best friend since meeting at secondary school. They are in the same form, and Mitch plays football for a local community team. He wants to see Steve more often on an evening and asked if he could come along to the dance classes and join the group. Mitch is just 12 and this is the first time he has tried dance.

He enjoys the challenge, although is conscious that he is new to the group and Steve and him are the only boys.

Person-centred coaching

Coach the person, not the sport."

Steve Black ex Newcastle United, Newcastle Falcons and Wales Conditioning Coach

With a person-centred approach, the coach considers every aspect of the participants’ development and what makes them unique as an individual, taking the time to understand their preferences and individual wants and needs.

With that information, you will be able to create an environment that inspires them, boosts their motivation, and supports their long-term goals.

If the people you coach know that they are listened to, valued, and cared for, they will have a much greater connection with you, the coaching environment, and the activity. You can then support them to further develop and build a better awareness of themselves, their motivations, and beliefs. Coaching is a people business and relationships are at the centre.

No one cares what you know until they know that you care!"

Benjamin Franklin

Athlete outcomes of an effective coach

The C System has been developed from the initial ‘Positive Youth Development’ model and has 7 Cs that support a holistic and developmental approach to coaching people.

  • Competence: Co-creation and the setting of developmentally appropriate challenges and sessions that develop mastery across movement skills, fundamentals, physical competency, sport-specific skill mastery, and cognitive development appropriate to the participants’ stage of development
  • Confidence: Supporting participants to see what they are capable of, increasing their self-worth and belief through recognising and rewarding effort and commitment to staying on task following setbacks. Confidence is influenced by the other Cs, in particular competence from past achievements, accomplishments, and success.
  • Connection: Create positive and healthy connections, encouraging participants to interact with each other and see the benefits of working with and supporting others.
  • Character: Developing the individual to have three areas of respect: themselves, other people, and the environment. Respect for the rules, officials, equipment, and the opposition helps nurture an understanding of right and wrong and empathy with other people.
  • Creativity: Developing problem-solvers, individuals who are able to think for themselves and make healthy choices and informed decisions, creating participants who are able to think and perform to solve the challenges set in practices and competitions.
  • Caring and Compassion: Developing an understanding and tolerance of others. Participants understand their emotions and how others feel in situations and circumstances to develop compassion and feelings of caring for others. Talking about and explaining emotions enables individuals to ‘name’ them and how they are feeling. When we express our emotions, others are able to understand and support us more effectively.

We are going to focus on connection, character, caring and compassion for participant outcomes when coaching and how it affects diversity.


Diversity is the combination of people; inclusion is getting this mix to work together in harmony.

Jean Côté and Wade Gilbert stated: ‘Coaches have a crucial role in providing optimal learning environments in which athletes feel supported’.

As a coach, you can help create environments for participants where connections with others are promoted and it is your duty as a coach to ensure that every participant is treated with respect.

Through good coach-participant relationships, and participant-participant/coach-coach relationships, you can support participants to establish relationships and develop a bond and sense of togetherness within the group, as well as appreciating and respecting their differences.

To create a diverse environment, it is essential that the coach encourages participants to connect with each other. This means providing them with the skills and opportunities to interact, socialise, co-create, lead, and follow and learn more about and from each other.

Developing interpersonal skills and becoming aware of who you are and how you behave as a person are transferable skills.

The ability to communicate, engage and interact are all skills and qualities that can be transferred to teams, people, and relationships outside of sport.

Have a go

How well do your participants know each other? Create opportunities for the people you coach to connect and become aware of the others within the session. Through informal interaction, allow them to explore the diversity of the group and share their individuality, whilst creating an appreciation for one another and a sense of belonging regardless of their differences.


Use storytelling to raise awareness of diversity. Someone begins a story with a statement and then another person carries it on. This continues until everyone has had a chance to speak.

Select topics that encourage a diverse conversation, such as places you’ve visited on holiday, favourite foods, and people’s different cultures.

Celebrate world and international theme days during your sessions. Many have a ‘theme’ such as wearing odd socks for Down Syndrome Day. Share people’s experiences to build understanding. Here are a few to get you started:

  • International Women’s Day.
  • World Social Justice Day.
  • World Health Day.
  • World Day for Cultural Diversity.
  • World Refugee Day.
  • World Mental Health Day.
  • International LGBT Pride Day.

Check out the United Nation’s List of International Days and Weeks | United Nations.

Pair up your group and ask them to share. Participants have a conversation to find 1 to 4 things they all have in common and 1 to 4 things that are not common to them.

People bring in a sharing plate of food. This can be a food of their choice, linked to their heritage or simply bring certain countries to mind. Meal-centred activities are one of the most appealing ways to promote diversity and encourage conversation, and it is a great social activity. With adults, this social activity may become an evening out to continue the conversations over a meal.


Research shows that coaches play a crucial role in enabling athletes to develop their character, become a constructive and caring member of a sporting team, and ultimately, a productive member of society.”

Jean Côté and Wade Gilbert

Coaches play a vital role in setting an example of how to behave within and outside of their physical activity/sport setting. You will be surprised how many of your participants see you as a role model. Participants should be encouraged to show respect to others during sessions and competitions as they would in a non-sporting environment.

Role modelling and the part you play in a participant’s life is really important, and a reason why diversity of people, thinking and approaches is so important. If a participant can relate to their coach, this provides them with confidence, connection, and a belief that they can progress.

Coaches should discuss and co-create with their participants what their environment should ‘look and feel’ like. This is what people will hear, see and feel if they are observing the session or competition and the behaviours and values that all participants and coaches agree to maintain within the physical activity/sporting setting.

It’s important to discuss and agree on the actions, language and behaviours that are acceptable, not assume that a ‘blanket statement’ covers everything, and that everyone knows how to behave and act.

This may include:

  • supporting others
  • taking responsibility
  • listening and valuing other people’s opinions and views
  • how to win and lose gracefully.

Explore with your participants what this looks like: we regularly see in the media elite athlete’s versions of ‘not losing gracefully’ from not wearing a runner-up medal and avoiding going up on stage to meet the dignitaries, to walking off after the game, and refusing to shake hands.

Your role as a coach is to develop people and support them in their development. There will be occasions when an individual doesn’t meet the standards that you and they have set themselves. This is a learning opportunity, to understand what happened, how they are feeling, and why they did what they did, giving them the chance to ‘restore’ a situation with another or move forward next time they are in the same situation.

If a club has a philosophy that focuses on a participant’s character, the development of the person and behaviours to encourage empathy, integrity, and taking responsibility, this approach develops a culture and messaging that will enhance the club’s ability to attract a more diverse range of participants as they will feel they are entering a safe and values-led setting that appreciates diversity.

Having a positive climate within your coaching sessions encourages cohesion amongst the participants, increased satisfaction from being a member of the group and increased overall enjoyment. Remember: if people are not happy and enjoying themselves, they will find somewhere that makes them happy!

By increasing the behaviours associated with character, participants become positive role models, which helps other people and communities relate to your organisation. Communities will see that everyone is welcome in your organisation, that values and treating individuals with respect is central to everything, and that participants are encouraged to do the right thing, and care for and understand others.

Participants will build trust with people outside of your session, this can be noticed by potential new members who will want to attend a session where they feel they can trust the participants within it.

By influencing the behaviour of participants, they will hold each other to account to maintain standards within the organisation and feel comfortable to challenge and be challenged. This open and transparent approach to how people are treated is an important aspect of encouraging individuals from diverse communities to join; this allows them to feel valued, respected and welcome in your ‘setting’.


Do you include the participant in decision-making when setting goals?

Do you focus on supporting participants to create connections with other participants?

How do you encourage empathy, respect, integrity, and responsibility among the participants you coach?

How can find out about a participant’s functional ability?

How can a participant’s race, religion, disability, gender, or sexuality affect their ability to take part?

As a coach, how do you encourage participants to connect with each other?

What values do you promote among your participants?


How Communication Influences Diversity

Having good communication is an effective way of building bridges and removing barriers for people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Groups of people who have good and regular communication have a foundation to build a strong team spirit, resolve problems, have challenging conversations, and enjoy participating together.

When communicating effectively, a coach understands their participants and puts information across in a way that will make most sense to them.

What do we mean by communication and diversity?

It starts and ends with the audience: your participants. Think about:

  • how they want to communicate
  • what would attract them to the organisation
  • what they need to keep coming back
  • what formats of communication they use.

A good starting point is to go back to the beginning of the guide, (not really!), to consider your biases and experiences. We can’t assume that everyone has the same view of the world.

It is very likely that, if you coach young people, their view of the world and expectations will be very different to yours. They have grown up with technology, they have only known having a phone in their pocket, they use emoticons to communicate, chat function is the way they like to communicate, and, guess what, most ‘dissolve’ in a few seconds.

A sign on the community and school noticeboard won’t impact them because they won’t see it! If that’s your audience, then social media and being in their ‘space’ is the way to connect.

We have explored personal diversity. It’s also important to consider contextual diversity. Contextual diversity describes the differences in the environments and surroundings that your participants live in, such as the various socio-economic levels, and different types of education and institutions, working environments, and hyper-communities. These factors all influence how someone communicates and how they want to be communicated to.

In simple terms, remember that not everyone is sat at a screen all day waiting for an email! A change of venue at late notice may require three bus journeys with a change and longer journey. Making decisions on when you communicate and how is crucial to keeping participants engaged.

A run coach had put out flyers in a borough of a town she had recently moved to. She had spoken to the local run club and advertised near the park that she wanted to use. She had little response, even after trying social media.

Then, by luck, she stumbled across the solution. She took her sisters’ children to school one morning and got talking to the other parents in the playground. She said she was going for a run after dropping off her niece and nephew; two of the other mums said they wish they could do that.

A conversation followed that they were all busy and running straight after the school run was the best fit for many. The run club now takes place two mornings a week. Taking the same approach, the run coach went to local businesses and offered to arrange a lunchtime run for their colleagues.

This started as a small group, and has grown to include over 20 runners each session. The coach has made a business.

The key message is that they communicated at a point that the audience could see it. In these instances, this was face to face, at a convenient location and time for the participants.

Inclusive language

Inclusive language is, quite simply, language that doesn’t exclude particular people or groups. It is when the words used, and the way we use them, cause no harm or intended offence.

This can be a great way of highlighting your commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Inclusive language is essential in creating inclusive cultures and great coaching. Language is one approach that shines a ‘spotlight’ on exclusive practices. A great driver of diverse and inclusive practice focuses on using inclusive language throughout everything we do.

Often, we hold ourselves back for fear of making a mistake, upsetting someone, or using the wrong terms. We want to be inclusive, but we also want to get it right.


Language is ever-changing. It evolves, and you can’t get it right every time, but people will recognise your intent to be inclusive.

Adapting your communication approach to meet the needs of participants

It may seem obvious, but start by asking the participant how they would like to be communicated to.

If you think there is a chance that an individual may be offended by a certain term or if you are unsure of a particular term, avoid using it until you have an opportunity to speak to them and they can tell you personally how they identify.

This can relate to disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Often, people from all communities will be happy to share how they identify and their pronouns. You also must be respectful of those who may not wish to share.

The lowdown on language

What are the benefits of using inclusive language?

For those in underrepresented groups, language inclusivity helps to create a welcoming and safe space where individuals do not have any apprehension about their authentic selves.

This highlights in your environment that:

  • everyone should be heard
  • you are open to discussing different needs
  • all opinions are valued.

The use of language signals is so much more than simple words. It signals a safe space and a commitment to care and have empathy and understanding of others.

To appeal and connect with a diverse audience, your communication must ‘talk’ to the individuals within your coaching environment and local community. Understanding that everyone is unique and accepting of others' differences are key components of diversity. The same applies when it comes to communication. To be able to do this effectively, you must understand the audience and shape the message in a way that would appeal to the majority.

Understanding cultural variations and being mindful of how your message will be interpreted is difficult when your audience is diverse, regardless of the format. The need to be sensitive to how others may interpret these and use your interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and tact, to effectively pass on your message.

Using inclusive language in your coaching:

  • Someone’s name is part of their identity and making the effort to learn the correct pronunciation shows that you value the person and respect their identity.
  • Using pronouns. For most of us, using pronouns isn’t about ensuring people know which pronouns we use: it’s about highlighting that we are allies to the trans community.
  • Using the correct language and terms when discussing disability, impairments and long-term health conditions e.g., wheelchair users, non-disabled people, autistic people, etc.
  • Be clear and concise. When communicating to a diverse audience, keep the language clear, concise, and direct. Avoid jargon, slang terms, euphemisms, and local expressions.
  • SLIM your communication: Say Less. Impact More. Consider what you want to say, when you will say it, and who you will say it to.
  • Playback/reflecting. When listening and in conversations, acknowledge what you have heard, check for understanding, and use playback, the repeating of comments and messages to show you heard and appreciate their input. Importantly it shows participants that you have ‘heard’ not only what is being said, but also the feelings and emotions they are experiencing when sharing their experiences. Summarise your messages, looking to eliminate any misunderstanding of instructions, feedback, and messages.
  • Consider your body language. People and cultures respond very differently to non-verbal forms of communication. Consider personal space and touching of others. Positive facial expressions, a smiling face and eye contact shows you are pleased to meet them, are listening and are interested. Think about how you greet people, and whether a wave, handshake or fist bump are appropriate. Are your mannerisms helping, encouraging, or hindering and unintentionally disrespectful?
  • Words are impactful, so use them wisely. Plan what you are going to write down, avoid the use of long sentences and apply the clear language principles above. Paraphrase to keep information and instructions clear.
  • Be open.  It’s easy to gravitate towards others who are like you, as they share your views, experiences, preferences, and traditions. Take the time to know your participants and local communities from culturally diverse backgrounds: ask and consider what will help build connections and relationships. Be open to new ideas and experiences. Be prepared to navigate different languages, customs and a different way of life.
  • Signage. The signs, notices, and social media posts that you share are the ‘front door’ to you and your organisation. Do they represent the messages you want to give? Do the pictures encourage individuals from different backgrounds to join? Do they feel welcoming and speak to you or the participants you would like to attract? Are they impactful, easy to read, and provide the information people need?

If you consider how inclusive your communications are, it will help us ensure that more people can access and understand our products and services.

Top Tips

Do you know the participants you are trying to communicate with? Are they current participants who you coach (communication, instructions, retention) or are you trying to communicate with and attract new audiences?

Consider how they like to receive information. Look at similar organisations that communicate to the audience you want to attract. Speak to the community if this is possible and ask them.

What format would be best for a new audience? Would this be social media? Local notice boards, local community groups? The first thing to remember is they need to see your message first, so where will they be looking?

Are there other organisations that work with the communities and/or people you want to support? Could you ask them for advice?

Think about the format for the audience you would like to attract. A noticeboard in the local sports centre is unlikely to attract people who haven’t participated for a while. The club message board is great for an internal message, but not if you are looking for new members for your team.

Have you asked participants or researched the most effective ways to communicate with them?

Would they like information in other formats e.g. large print, braille, easy read etc.

Would participants prefer information via email, text, phone call or audio messages?

It’s easy to start thinking that communication is a one-way process, where you are providing the information. It is important that when you develop your own communication style, you bear in mind how to give information/instructions and how you will encourage and provide opportunities for participants to provide feedback. Relationships and safe environments need open communication and dialogue.

Inclusive communication is always changing and evolving. It means understanding that forms of communication with a participant may change over time, whether this is due to a participant acquiring different communication needs or because guidance on communication techniques may change. It is down to you to identify what participants’ needs are, whilst considering the needs of others.

To be able to communicate inclusively, you need to consider the needs of everyone, so no one will be excluded.

Whilst your intention is to be inclusive, sometimes you can communicate in ways that may not benefit the participant. Listen, acknowledge the feedback, accept, apologise if necessary and keep moving forward on your journey to being an inclusive coach.

Reflect on what is working, what isn’t, where you are having great success and where you are making slow progress. Consider how you can tweak and try something different.

Coach Story

Rugby Coach Jess Bunyard uses many of the approaches above to promote her sessions for participants. Look at the graphics below that Jess created, and note the use of clear and explicit language, clarity of audience and use of visuals to create a message that is inclusive and that has clear expectations.


Reflect on your sessions’ and organisations’ communication to your audience. What changes, additions and deletions could you make to enhance your connection to your prospective audience and local community?


Developing your own style of communicating in sessions

Be yourself, your authentic self. Your participants will quickly sense when you’re not being the real you. We are all really good at sensing when we think people are being ‘false’ or ‘not telling the truth’.

We know that we all have unconscious bias and that our biases impact on how we include or exclude the people around us. The art of being an inclusive communicator is about being true to yourself and making sure that people around you know that you are being true to them.

No coach is perfect, and everyone will make mistakes. The best thing we can do is to own up to making those mistakes and importantly learn from them. By doing this, participants will recognise that you meant no harm in what happened and recognise that you had good intentions. This process will help build trust among the participants and you, as they recognise you’re taking responsibility but also wanting to learn more about them as an individual.

If you’re unfamiliar about a faith or religion, and the implications for your participant and your sessions, ask. Asking questions can be a great way of showing you want to build a relationship with participants and take their needs on board. By doing this, the participant can have a great experience within your session.

Many businesses use an approach called reverse mentoring. New and junior staff share their experiences with executives so that they can better understand the needs of their workforce.

By getting to know your participants, you can adapt your communication style to suit all who are involved within your session. If you know a participant prefers an activity to be explained in a certain way, try and fit that into your delivery style. Before each session, consider the needs of everyone involved and how you can ensure the aims of your session can be met.

Reflecting on previous sessions is a great way of monitoring how successful your communication style and techniques were to ensure everyone was included. No coach willingly wants to exclude any participants, but by reflecting on your own practices, you can change the way you communicate in the future.

Emotional intelligence is an important skill in the coach’s toolbox.

Communication, coaching and technology

The use of technology to help communicate with participants can be a great way of ensuring all participants can understand what is expected of them. There are several specific groups who would benefit from using technology to enhance their experience in your coaching sessions.

Phones and tablets are a good way of showing video examples of what you would like the participants to do. People enjoy seeing a movement, activity, or skill progression before trying it. With apps you are also able to record their performance and allow them to review and comment on their progress. Seeing examples of activities is a great way of communicating with participants whose first language may not be English or participants who are deaf or hard of hearing.

If you have a diverse group of participants in your sessions and would like to communicate in a range of languages, translation apps are a good way to learn certain phrases and show what you mean.

The use of subtitles on video calls or videos will help include deaf or hard of hearing participants. Did you know that Facebook can add subtitles to videos that are uploaded to support accessibility? You Tube also has a function that allows you to add subtitles and transcribe spoken words to text.

A screen reader is a programme that reads out content from a computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet. The programme is usually used by people who are blind or visually impaired, people with dyslexia or people who find looking at a screen for a long time difficult. A participant can use a device to read out any of the information you wish to share. The UK Coaching website has a range of accessibility tools through the ‘Recite Me’ function.

Makaton and Sign Language are ways to communicate with deaf or hard of hearing participants and simple phrases can be learned online. This can make a big difference to a participant’s experience within your coaching session. As well as helping you communicate and interact, they show that you care and have taken the time to connect with them as a person.

Makaton and British Sign Language courses are available to support you with your communication if you regularly coach participants who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Do your marketing resources and social media reflect the organisation's and programme's values?

Ask yourself:

  • Do you know the correct word and language for certain groups in society?
  • Who can help you with the most up-to-date diversity language?
  • Do you know what types of communication techniques work best with the participants you coach?
  • Can you think of other ways to communicate if someone doesn’t understand?
  • What types of technology do you have available to you when coaching that can help with communication?
  • What do you do to understand the communication needs of your participants?

Have a go

Look at your social media and marketing resources. These may be flyers, posters or emails. Do they reflect the messages you want to send? Are they open and diverse? If you use the words ‘open to all’, ‘everyone welcome’, does the text, language and visuals show this?

Those from a diverse background may need more encouragement to ensure that the session is for them. Look at your resources: what one thing can you change to increase the reach and appeal to a more diverse audience?


Creating a Welcoming Environment

The participant should be at the centre of everything when it comes to inclusive coaching. As a coach, you should consider the participant and their needs and include these in the decision-making process.

The participant has a voice that enables the creation of a person-centred approach where everyone can be included.

Promoting your club/session

‘You can't be what you can't see’ is an expression used to highlight that people need stories, role models, and visuals to help them connect and see the opportunities. Without these they may be unaware of the opportunities out there for them.

Using a range of images that reflect a diverse community can help you promote your club to a wider audience. If a potential participant can see themselves being represented in your marketing materials, it can show your commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Imagery within marketing is very powerful as a person can see ‘someone like me’ taking part, they can see a connection and are more likely to find out more information.

Be explicit in your messages: what does ‘club for all’, ‘everyone welcome’, ‘inclusive club’ mean? They are often used as ‘buzz’ words. State what you offer within your sessions. Are they for beginners, or those who have not participated for a period of time?

Social media can be a very powerful tool for promoting and showcasing the very best of your sessions. It provides an opportunity to highlight how diverse and inclusive your sessions are. Short videos showcasing activities that take place in your organisation and coaching sessions can be placed on social media. These videos can give potential participants a snapshot of what your sessions look like and the type of activities they will be taking part in. The opportunity to ‘try before you buy’.

Use video clips from participants and/or parents/carers to promote the club and what people gain from attending and enjoy doing. These can highlight experiences or explain why someone should attend and what they’ve gained from the sessions. Remember to keep the clips short.

Why not ask your participants what they would want to see? Ask them to create their own and share them with you. This can be a great social activity and encourages participants to take responsibility for supporting their organisation.

When increasing diversity within your organisation, you will still attract your “traditional” participants and you will also open yourself up to a wide range of new participants.

Why not ask your participants what they would want to see? Ask them to create their own and share them with you. This can be a great social activity and encourages participants to take responsibility for supporting their organisation.

When increasing diversity within your organisation, you will still attract your “traditional” participants and you will also open yourself up to a wide range of new participants.

Danny is a wheelchair user who wants to join his local table tennis club.

Danny had seen the club on social media and noticed how they had a wheelchair user in the photos on the visuals. Danny was a little apprehensive about attending as he’d never been to a sports club with people who weren’t wheelchair users.

Danny rings up the club to find out more details to use to decide on whether he still wanted to attend. The coach at the club is very friendly over the phone and asks Danny what his needs are to make sure everything is in place for Danny’s first session.

The coach informs Danny that there are accessible parking bays outside the main entrance to the venue and they have accessible changing and toilet facilities on site.

The coach also emails over a registration pack for Danny to complete. Within the pack is a section focusing on participants’ needs and expectations (physical and social). This helps the coach with planning for the sessions as they could ensure all activities are suitable for wheelchair users.

Danny loves the first session as he is able to take part in all the activities. Even though he is new to the sport, the coach adapts the session so that he is able to progress and achieve.

After the session has finished, the coach speaks to Danny to find out how they found the session and if there was anything they could do to ensure Danny keeps having a great time.

The coach made it a very safe environment and made it clear that they welcomed feedback that could help all participants take part and have an enjoyable time. This helped the coach with creative thinking and their planning, as they could adapt and modify their thinking to cater for a wide variety of participant and the ideas within their group.

The coach had noticed that more people were applying to be part of the club, as word had spread about the club supporting all participants from a wide variety of experiences, backgrounds and abilities. The coach spoke to several parents who attended the sessions and stayed with their child, who then agreed to volunteer and support the sessions.


Think about what the coach did to make sure the participant had a good experience within the club. There are key messages in the social media post, the initial conversation, registration pack, welcome at the first session, the end of session, and the feedback opportunities. Which of these do you currently do? What can you do differently in your environment?


Great sessions

Ask the participant what their needs are. You’re not expected to know everything, and this shows you’re taking an interest in the person and their priorities.

Considering the before, during and after of a physical activity/sport session will help to create a welcome environment for participants.

When you communicate with your audience (new and existing participants and their support network), you are making a statement about the values and ethos of your organisation and the people in it. People are more knowledgeable about inclusion and their rights, your tone, approach, and language must be open, accessible, inclusive and respectful for everyone.

This is your sales pitch, the opportunity to encourage people to attend and take a look.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression!"

The first session and direct communication with an individual is very important. We already know from our experiences of unconscious bias that they will be making judgements on you and the organisation.

Get to know your participants, including their likes, dislikes, previous experience, and any adaptations you need to make. Ask the individual whether adaptations are made in other activities or settings they attend. This could be done via a conversation or registration pack. You want to give that individual the best possible experience, so by having this information before they attend their first session is very valuable.

Have the correct equipment available for when the participant attends their first session. Many people are nervous about attending for the first time. What information do they need to know, and what do they need to wear and bring with them? Help them to feel comfortable as they arrive.

There is a reason that the service industry use ‘meet and greeters’ at the door. It’s the opportunity to have an informal chat, show the facilities, what you have to offer and provide a warm welcome on arrival. They are also there to stop you from changing your mind! People have been known to wait in their car, avoid coming into the building, and miss a session as they needed help and support in taking the first steps.

This could be from a parent, helper, or participant buddy: it doesn’t have to be a member of the coaching team. Set the session and new participant up for success.

Ensure all the activities within a session are inclusive and meaningful for the participants. Consider how you may adapt and modify your plan of activities for the session to support your participants’ progression and inclusion.

Ask participants on what they feel they need to work on.

Remind participants that making mistakes during the session is part of learning and the development process. Take the time to support the individual to understand how they can learn from these moments and experiences.

Design your session and activities to provide choice for your participants and lots of opportunities to make decisions.

Seek feedback from participants and the coaching team, such as by asking people their opinion on the session or by organising quick check-ins, reviews and meetings and the use of apps, forms, or questionnaires. How will you review and apply their feedback? How will your participants know that you have ‘listened?’

How will you use the feedback to inform your programme?

Use your session reflections to review your own performance and consider how to further create an environment where people feel comfortable to give you feedback.

Seek to increase your understanding of diversity, your local community, your participants and wider society. Be a curious coach.

Get feedback from participants and staff members about why they left. Exit insight is often very valuable and provides a different perspective.

Assess your training and competition venues to ensure that it is fit for the activity and accessible to all and has the appropriate facilities. If you have any concerns, pass them on to the facility staff.

If the facilities belong to the club, speak to the relevant people or committee member to discuss what reasonable adjustments you can make to the building. Invite groups representing people with a protected characteristic to give advice about what could make your building full accessible. Your local council should have an access officer who deals with creating accessible facilities.

Reasonable adjustments are the adjustments you are expected to make to ensure that an individual is able to access and participate in your coaching sessions. This can include access to facilities, adjustments to clothing and equipment needs, and providing additional support for an individual.


How do you promote your club?

What do you do to attract a more diverse participant base?

Does your club/organisation membership reflect your local community demographic?

What’s the process when a participant joins your club?

What knowledge do you need as a coach to include participants from different backgrounds?

Who can support you in making your club more diverse?

Are there any groups of society who you need to learn more about?

How do you obtain feedback from your participants?

Do you have a plan B when coaching if plan A doesn’t work?


Jeffing is a term used for running sessions that include fartlek (a combination of running, jogging and walking at different tempos and distances). A club advertised this as ideal for those new to running and/or those who haven’t run for some time.

Two friends joined the group, only to find it was very competitive and many of the runners were experienced and using the sessions as a return from injury process. The two newbies didn’t like the experience and after two sessions decided it wasn’t for them.

The coach followed up after they missed the next session with a message, which led to a phone call. They were surprised as an experienced runner and run leader didn’t realise the impact on the two new people.

Taking the lessons learned, the coach changed the language on the advertising to reflect a wider audience and arranged for an earlier and shorter session for new people, who could continue with the other group if they wanted to or stop the session as the others joined. 

This story demonstrates the power of feedback and the importance of a coach seeking feedback, caring, and most importantly, listening.

Engaging Diverse Communities


Having good relationships with diverse communities and the individuals within them is essential to engaging them within your organisation, programme and coaching sessions. Relationships are based on interactions and communication; by showing that you are committed to working together and co-creating an environment and safe space, you’re increasing the level of trust they have with you.

Considering the unique situation each time is really important, as communities and the people within them have different needs. What worked with one group will not work with another. However, your initial approach can remain the same. Ask the community what they want and need and what the challenges and barriers are, and share what you are able to offer, as you work collaboratively to create a solution.

As you support and approach different communities, you can apply your experiences and knowledge to create different solutions. This increased skillset will increase your confidence to meet the needs of the people you coach through inclusive practice and inclusive coaching. An open environment with great coaching provides the foundations for underrepresented groups and individuals to feel safe to join.

  • Building relationships is key when engaging with any community. If your relationship with the community you are targeting is strong, they will trust that you will be able to provide a session they feel included in.
  • Be visible in your local community: reach out and create connections.
  • Show commitment when engaging with a community and learning about their culture, needs, unique experiences and barriers, as it can help build trust. A community having trust in you can lead to greater engagement and respect.
  • Show allyship: speak out and support diversity within your sessions, programme, club and community.
  • Be you: be yourself, share your pronouns, share your story and connect with the people
  • An important component to creating good relationships with different communities is finding out who the key players and stakeholders are. Their influence can impact hugely on what you want to achieve, and you can learn more about the community from that person.

Be aware of a community’s past experiences, they may have had a negative experience within physical activity and sport sector (coach, club, group, organisation or governing body). Trust needs to be earned; it may take time to establish that trust but showing that you’re not there just to ‘tick a box’ will help create better relationships with the community and the individuals within it.

Encouraging the key players and stakeholders to be role models and advocates within the community is a good way to develop confidence and trust. Using local members of the community as role models from different backgrounds and experiences within your organisation or session highlights to the community what is possible, and that physical activity and sport can work for them.

This could be a leadership, management and/or coaching role as well as a participant. Potential participants see someone who represents them and their community.


Coaching helps participants develop as a whole person, and as a coach you are developing as a whole person too. You are always growing and always learning and there are so many opportunities to grow your craft. I find coaching so rewarding and so stimulating, because learning never stops."

Lisa Graham, London Borough of Hounslow Swim Club

We all have different experiences in our lives that influence our thinking, which impact our view of the world and perspective on diversity. The people we interact, mix, and socialise with have a big impact on how diverse our knowledge and experiences are (conformity bias, confirmation bias and in-group bias).

The more diverse our close network of friends and colleagues are, the more likely it is that we will have a greater knowledge of other people’s cultures and experiences.

Have a go

Make a list of the five people who you regularly speak to and ask advice about your coaching.

Now, reflect on the people and consider how diverse your network is. Do you think this influences your thoughts and views?


Look at your coaching group and organisation's people. Are they similar? From similar backgrounds? Similar experiences? Have similar views? Similar opinions? Similar characteristics?

How will this influence the decisions you make as an individual and as an organisation?

If your group is very ‘samey’; consider how you can gain a wider perspective of other people’s views, opinions, thoughts, and experiences. An increase in knowledge will add to the coaching experience.

Think about the participants you coach within your sessions. Who could help you increase your knowledge and awareness? How and who could help you explore and identify what information could help you ensure they all feel included within all aspects of the organisation?

A community sports and social club has a large membership, with five different sporting sections. Three of the sports regularly use the social and bar area, with two much less so.

With a change of chairperson, they meet with their members and are surprised to hear that participants didn’t feel welcome, didn’t belong and are ‘intruding’ went they went into the social area.

This surprises the chairperson, as a number of the participants have been members for many years. The chairperson meets with the groups to discuss the barriers, if they were simple things and could be quickly resolved. The signs and pictures are from the three dominant sports, the drinks they liked are not available, the bar area isn’t open after their training night and they find it off-putting that young children are running around unsupervised.

The chairperson asks why they had not said anything before. The response is: ‘we were never asked’. Within the club there are different groups and different needs and the chairperson is the first person to consider why many members didn’t use the social facilities.

Intent v knowledge v impact

Everyone has the positive intent to create more diversity and inclusion within their coaching environment, but occasionally knowledge isn’t at the same level as the intent. This can lead to a participant having a negative experience because their needs are not being met and by having this bad experience, the impact is that the participant may not feel comfortable to return to the activity or organisation.

Examples from coaching

A coach may deliver an inclusive sport session that is suitable for visually impaired participants but only brings bibs in bright yellow because they think that bright colours are easier to see. This may not help some of the participants because their vision may be affected by bright colours.

The coach has the intent to be inclusive but doesn’t ask the visually impaired participants about their level of sight and what can help them take part in the session. Remember, never assume and always ask and involve.

A coach leads a ‘back to badminton’ session, the group has a social area, music is playing in the background and drinks can be bought and brought into the sports hall. There is no formal competition, participants turn up to a session and they can play singles, doubles, or mixed doubles. In each game, the participants decide whether they play to 11, 15 or 21 points based on their energy levels, experience, and motivation.

The coach asks six players to attend the club night, they attend and find a very different ‘space’. There is no music, everyone is put onto a court and ‘levelled’. The games are competitive and played as a ladder league. The players tell the coach that they won’t be attending again. The coach has the intent to provide challenge for the participants, yet they didn’t have any knowledge or understanding of the people’s motivations to join the ‘back to badminton’ sessions and as a result the experience had a negative impact upon them.

People take part in physical activity and sport for many reasons, sometimes these are not what we expected and often these change during their life cycle. Motivations can be identified in the most basic way as extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation is driven by external factors and influences and intrinsic motivation is driven from within the person. The following visual shows some of the reasons and motivations a person will have to participate.

Some individuals may have two motivations or may have their motivations change; a person who joins a walking club after advice from their doctor to increase their exercise level and lose weight (extrinsic), then enjoys the sessions and continues to attend for the social aspects after meeting the targets set my their GP (intrinsic).

Do you know why your participants attend your sessions? Do you really, really know? Have you taken the time to ask?

Consider what happens when motivation drops or disappears: people disengage, find something else to do, or simply stop! It’s more than a little important that we know what motivates our participants. We can then adapt, modify and plan our sessions to ensure that their needs are met and the experience is positive for everyone.

Sports kit and clothing

Sports kit can be a huge barrier to participants taking part in sport and physical activity. Sport can have certain traditions or expectations when it comes to what clothing is needed to take part. As a coach, we must speak to our participants to ensure that they are comfortable (and safe) when taking part.

  • Does the clothing for your sessions encourage diversity?
  • Does your clothing allow for modest attire for religious and cultural reasons?
  • Do you have clothing and equipment for different genders? Gender neutral?
  • Do they have to wear the ‘traditional’ clothing?
  • Is the clothing warm and appropriate for practice as well as competition?
  • Is the cost prohibitive?  
  • Are the colours helpful?

Things to get you thinking:

  • Is it necessary for a woman to wear a skirt to play netball?
  • Do you have to wear whites to play cricket?
  • Could a girl take part in gymnastics in shorts rather than the traditional leotard?
  • Would a training kit keep the cost down and prevent participants feeling pressured to buy brands and wear the latest professional club ‘tops’?

The Ireland women’s team (rugby union) has chosen to change their traditional white shorts and instead make a permanent switch to navy. The move, which is led by a world-leading kit supplier and the IRFU, comes as a response to players’ feedback about period anxieties."

England Women's (FA, football) new kits switch to blue shorts from white shorts after concerns over periods. The Lionesses had previously worn white shorts with their home kits, but will now have blue shorts; Beth Mead was among the players to express concerns over light-coloured shorts while players are on their periods; Man City and West Brom have already switched to dark shorts. Mead explained the team had expressed their thoughts and worries over white shorts to the kit manufacture, who have now responded to their requests."

After making great progress ensuring the national leotards will no longer have white lower halves, due to concern over periods, British Gymnastics has added sports hijabs and unitards to its inclusive clothing range. The inclusive clothing range supports the new vision for the sport.

Nick Horswell, British Gymnastics, said: "One of the commitments we have made as part of our new ‘Leap Without Limits’ strategy is to be relentless in our pursuit of inclusion and accessibility in gymnastics and our clothing offering and national team clothing are very much part of that."

A representative team in a sport that was traditionally a male-dominated sport purchased the playing kit and teamwear from their usual supplier. They ordered a standard set of sizes, as that’s what they had done for the teams perviously. They ordered the same kit and teamwear for the women’s team.

The shorts were not designed for the female anatomy, the trackpants were two long in the leg and not designed for women’s hips. The polo shirts were square cut and not designed for breasts. The women felt that they were not valued and conscious in their ill-fitting teamwear and spent most of the warm up trying to pull the short length down.

This was a very negative experience and a performance distractor. The management team were embarrassed that they had not considered and consulted with the women.

Changes have since been made and the players were consulted in the style, design, and sizes of their teamwear and playing kit.


Do you have an exchange programme within your organisation? The ability for participants to swap kit/boots as they grow, or simply donate kit that is no longer required?

If your activity or sport has equipment that is expensive to purchase, do you have equipment for people to use during a trial period? A hire scheme or loan system?


Partnership working

Working with a wide range of partners can be a huge benefit when engaging with diverse communities. There are many different people, organisations and charities that can support you as a coach and organisation to make new relationships with communities you may not have considered or been able to access before.

There are charities and organisations linked to protected characteristics that are able to offer advice and suggestions to support you. Have you looked at what your governing body recommends to support diverse communities and underrepresented groups?

If you’re thinking more locally, contact your active partnership, local authority, or partner with local schools and community groups who are looking for somewhere close by where physical activity and sport could be accessible. They may offer you acces to facilities.

Linking with local community forums can be an excellent way of working with other groups to enhance your offer to a wider range of participants.

Benefits of partnership working:

  • Co-creation of activities.
  • Support in accessing community groups and individuals.
  • Collaboration.
  • Decision-making support.
  • Accountability.
  • Role models.
  • A wider variety of experiences, skills and knowledge.
  • Better quality of experience and opportunities for your participants.
  • Improves your network and people to ask for advice.
  • Support from others.
  • Signposting and introductions through new people, organisations and networks.


There are a range of funding opportunities that can support you as a coach or organisation to create new activities and opportunities for diverse communities. This can allow you to extend yor reach, offer sessions within the local community, extend your offer and sessions, support new participants, purchase additional equipment and take away the financial risk and make it easier for you to provide activities for diverse communities.

The funding can be used to:

  • target underrepresented groups.
  • upskill coaches and volunteers
  • fund facility hire
  • purchase new equipment
  • purchase adaptive equipment
  • cover marketing materials
  • pay for new technology that supports the delivery or running of a club.

Unconscious Bias

Amazingly, the mind makes decisions quite quickly, frequently doing so without our awareness. In order to process information and make decisions quickly, it has developed shortcuts based on our experiences, background, cultural experiences, and environment.

Although these quick judgements are frequently incorrect since our minds are operating on impulse rather than insight, it is fantastic for keeping us alive. When we meet new individuals, we quickly form judgements about them based on their gender, perceived socio-economic status, accent, clothing, religion, and ethnicity before determining whether they belong to "our group." Those who are like us are those we often favour.

Our ‘in groups’ can develop because of where someone lives, their participation in certain activities, their accent, their social circle, or even how they present themselves.

This may mean preferring one person’s decision over another’s because they have a similar background, such as education. We find ourselves nodding, murmuring words of agreement, leaning in, and feeling a connection without being aware. This is called affinity bias.

In a coaching context, we may have an unconscious bias about someone’s ability. This may be because of the equipment they turn up with, their height because it meets the sports profile (basketball, volleyball), their body shape influencing their playing position, or because we know their parents! This may be a negative or positive bias based on your previous experiences.

That is unconscious bias. Everyone experiences it, and while you can't stop it, you can learn to recognise biases, take your time making decisions, question your assumptions, reconsider your justifications, check in with your thoughts and take the time to self-reflect on the decisions you made and learning from them.

There are many types of unconscious bias, and by learning about some of them, you can become aware of these biases in your coaching.

This could be showing bias towards a participant because they are from a similar background or grew up in a similar neighbourhood to the coach.

Choosing adult participants who are younger because there is a perception that they are stronger and fitter or choosing youth players who are the oldest in their age category because of the perception that they will be more developed (Relative Age Effect (RAE)).

Occurs when participants conform to other participants within the session. This could involve a participant wanting to wear a particular brand of sports kit because that is what other participants in the group are wearing. For a coach, be aware of being drawn to the participants that follow all your advice and instructions.

A coach selecting an all-male team because they believe males are stronger, fitter and more skilful than female participants. This may also affect your selection of a coaching team or who you spend more time coaching in your sessions.

Selecting a participant as they look like a ‘professional’ above a participant who doesn’t show the characteristics of a typical participant. A study into football scouts identified that they were more likely to select a player with blonde hair!

This could be preferring to pick participants with more traditional British names over more participants with non-British names.

The halo/horns effect occurs when you learn something new about someone or observe a behaviour and then consistently treat them differently as a result. This could include a participant having a famous parent and the coach always picking them in the hope of gaining recognition.  

Attribution bias refers to judging someone based on their actions and behaviour, without knowing their motivations or situation. For example, a participant may not be engaging in training as much as they used to and seems distant. The coach may think that the player has lost interest and isn’t trying but this may be down to problems that lie outside of the session.

How can this impact my coaching?

Unconscious bias, through the organisation, workforce and coaching staff has a big impact on how a participant feels within the environment. It can even influence whether they join. They may assume from the messaging signals that the organisation is not the right fit for them, and they wouldn’t feel welcome.

If you are not aware or addressing any unconscious biases with others, you are not providing a welcoming environment for all. Remember that it is much easier to see unconscious bias in others than it is to see bias in yourself. It's important to challenge and support everyone to become aware of their biases and the implications these may have.

When biases exist this can be ‘felt’ and restricts the variety of people who attend the organisation and the sessions, activities you provide. Some participants may feel they are being treated differently to others if an unconscious bias is not identified.

Having good relationships and connections with participants is essential to creating diverse environments. The more knowledge we have about different cultures and groups of society, the better we will be equipped to cater for them.

You’re a role model for the participants you coach. If you act differently to certain participants because of their bias, the participants may follow suit or may side with the participant who is being treated unfairly. This can then cause friction during activity sessions which means participants will not get the best experience.

This can also limit your ability to provide inclusive environments and get the best out of the participants.

What can I do to challenge unconscious bias?

As previously mentioned, unconscious bias is something everyone goes through: it’s part of human nature and doesn’t mean we actively think like that.

Although biases are unconscious, there are ways in which you can challenge your own biases whilst raising awareness amongst others to do the same.


  • Acknowledge and understand your biases.
  • Seek to understand and learn other cultures, religions, communities.
  • Look for further unconscious bias training and resources.
  • Consider how you solve problems. Who do you go to for advice? Do you only talk to certain people about coaching? Can you create a wider network of people you liaise with?
  • Always try to think of situations from the person/s involved view and their perception rather than your own.
  • Challenge others if you become aware of bias.


Take a moment to consider your thoughts and views on a participant or group. Have you made ‘snap’ decisions based on how an individual speaks, looks or acts?

How may unconscious bias impact your coaching?

Be aware of the impact your biases have on the decisions you make within your coaching sessions and programmes?


Earn A Digital Badge

Learn about the importance of Duty to Care with our newly-enhanced Toolkit and demonstrate your commitment to looking after the people you coach by earning our Sport England-funded Digital Badge


Duty to Care: Diversity

By promoting diversity and equality in your coaching practice, you can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate and feel valued, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender, age, perceived ability or sexual orientation


Related Resources

  • Cognitive Diversity Key to Better Coaching Environments – for All

  • Ten Steps to Better Communication with the People You Coach

  • Creating a Welcoming Environment


Power Your Coaching with Premium Membership


Transform your coaching with unlimited access to 1000+ resources and 24/7 support, including hundreds of money-saving discounts

UK Coaching Team