Do you give your team guidelines for locker room talk?

written by Erica Quam

The events from the last week during this political season have been shocking, disturbing, and sad. 

I've heard from several coaches about the challenges of being a coach during these political times of turmoil. 

This is not something that we can ignore. It’s not something that we can just sweep under the rug as just another disturbing footnote in a sad election season.
— Michelle Obama

Coaches want their teams and their locker rooms to be safe places where everyone can feel accepted and included rather than disrespected and excluded.

Yet if team conversations turn to politics and people are on opposing sides, it's hard to imagine how a positive environment can be maintained.

The path of least resistance would be to change the channel, change the subject, and keep things fun and light-hearted.

It would also be easy to place a ban on political discussions entirely - on or off the field, and in or out of the locker room.

Yet, is that the best approach?

For college coaches, your athletes may be voting in their first presidential election. They're starting to figure out their own personal beliefs and values - which now may begin to differ from their parents.

Is it possible to give your team some tools to better navigate sensitive issues where people can walk away feeling listened to and respected no matter what side of the aisle they're on?

Here are a few suggestions*:

  1. Use "I" statements when talking about you.
  2. Be an active listener; listen to and show respect for the contributions of others.
  3. React constructively to negative comments.
  4. No sarcasm - it's a major defeater of creativity.
  5. You may not like an idea, do not criticize the person.

With a few guidelines in place, could this be a teachable moment...a major opportunity for growth and learning? 

Help your athletes navigate these turbulent times by giving them the words to speak to one another with honesty, openness, and respect.

I'd like to think that something good can come out of these difficult times. I'd like to think that we can rise above and come together. I'd like to think that if we take time to really listen to one another we can find more similarities than differences, more respect than fear, and more love than hate. I believe sports is an arena where this can happen.

What are your experiences and thoughts on handling politics with your teams? Share your thoughts with this community in the comments below.

* These guidelines are an excerpt from Kathie Wickstrand-Gahen and the International Coaching Society.