Every soccer player knows how difficult it can be to find your bag on the sideline; they all look the same. On day one, I provide the players with a variety of ribbons – school colors, animals, fun patterns, colors associated with various causes- and ask them to choose as many ribbons as they want and decorate their bags however they see fit. Leading by example, I choose the rainbow ribbon- representing LGBTQ+ Pride- and the light blue, white and pink ribbon- representing the Trans* community. As I decorate my bag, I explain my choices. And I tell them: we are a family.

In this family, every individual defines their sex and gender identities and their sexualities on their own terms. Every person performs those identities as they see fit. Here, we expect to move beyond tolerating each other for who we are. Here, we expect acceptance, inclusion and pride. Acceptance means that every space- the bus, our locker room, hotel stays, our gym, our field- are safe spaces. Inclusion means that we cultivate a sense of belonging, not in spite of but because of, who we are. Pride means, like a family, we uplift each other and hold ourselves to the highest standards.

This activity and conversation are both Practical and Symbolic. Practically, each player has heard and been able to be explicitly involved in a conversation. They have heard and need to acknowledge my expectations and the expectations of their peers  Symbolically, this practice attaches the Finlandia University Women’s Soccer logo to LGBTQ+ Pride on the very first day of the season. It also identifies me as an ally from day one. Creating a space that is safe for each and every member of the team and creating the opportunity for each player to proudly and bravely identify themselves, sets a foundation of both implicit and explicit respect. Respect builds trust; a necessary part of team cohesion and success both on and off the field. 

Ribbons may start the conversation, but events and actions reinforce our values. Finlandia is an institution dedicated to servant leadership and, modeling the behavior I wish to instill, I give the players opportunities throughout the season to show their pride and support in each other as members of the LGBTQ+ community and strong Allies. Primarily, we participate in United Soccer Coaches’ Play with Pride Week. For this event, we design themed warmup shirts and wear rainbow ribbons for the game. By establishing the team as a safe sport space, the Play with Pride game moves us beyond tolerance and into a celebration of diversity. By establishing a haven of inclusion and acceptance, we signal celebration for ourselves, our school and our entire community. 

Grace Sokolow, M.A., M.S.W.
Head Women’s Soccer Coach
Athletic Academic Coordinator
Finlandia University