By Jonas Worth
Pride month 2019 coincided with the United States women’s national team winning a second consecutive World Cup in France. In doing so, several members of the squad were very open about their status in the LGBTQ+ community. They asked soccer fans to continue supporting all athletes, allies, administrators and coaches who have made their success possible. So you might ask yourself: How do I do that at the club, youth or collegiate level? And why does it matter beyond Pride month?
I should mention here that after 14 years coaching collegiate and semi-pro soccer, I turned my soccer advocacy “hobby” into a full-time career this year. As a player I always disliked bullies, and the presence of toxic masculinity/casual homophobia in men’s locker rooms, domestically and abroad, was something I had no problem confronting with a simple governing principle: respect.
This translated very well during my coaching career. Whether coaching men or women, youth or semi-pro, I ensured that our team culture included a space for everyone. This is a basic concept in sports psychology: Team cohesion is the foundation for every winning season. The more a locker room feels like a family environment, the more likely you are to win trophies.
Now that I work for You Can Play Project, it is my job to share these ideas with leagues like MLS, NWSL, governing bodies of soccer and many university athletic departments. I still coach on the side at the college level. I am happy to share my plan for making Pride month a year-round commitment, one that also creates a culture of winning. Believe it or not, Pride parades and parties are far less meaningful than the work we do the other 11 months of the year. I want to share that experience with other coaches.
First and foremost: You don’t have to be an expert. In fact, just as with your coaching development, you should aim your education in diversity and inclusion work to be a lifelong process. It’s ok to not have all the answers. As a middle-aged, straight, white male (lots of privilege), I am focused on providing a space for others to develop their own identities in the locker room, rather than forcing my own on them. Your actions and language are what matter most. You will find that once you open this door, your players will likely run with it and celebrate that you gave them the opportunity. You just have to provide the space and lead by example, in your actions and words.
The easiest way to start is to take United Soccer Coaches’ free LGBT Diversity and Inclusion Online Diploma Course, in addition to participating in our annual Play with Pride event this fall. This year we will provide different ideas on how to use social media to promote this event, fundraising possibilities and additional resources for those who want to become better allies or gain awareness within the LGBTQ+ community. It’s ok to use a “keep it simple” philosophy. If you are prepared to use a governing principle of respect, we have a space for any form of allyship or LGBTQ+ programming in your soccer space.
At You Can Play, we focus on connecting professional clubs and their athletes with local community organizations for more consistent commitment. This tends to have a greater impact year-round. You can do the same with your club or college team. You likely live near a local LGBTQ+ organization or adult soccer league. Invite them to your events. Consider some form of collaboration, whether a fundraiser or public display of your support. If you are ever short on ideas, we are here to support you. The LGBT and Allies group is constantly growing. We are happy to welcome new members.
Finally, come join us at the convention in January. We are planning an amazing panel of LGBTQ+ coaches, allies and world-class athletes. World Cup winner Ali Krieger was our guest of honor last year. We will soon have news of a similar great workshop.
We can’t all be as iconic as Megan Rapinoe. But we can certainly respond to her call to action at every level of soccer. We look forward to helping you with a consistent commitment to Pride year-round. Help us move forward by using our great sport as a medium for positive social change. Join us!
Jonas Worth — one of the leaders of the LGBT and Allies advocacy group — is director of partnerships and development for the You Can Play Project (http://www.youcanplayproject.org/)