3 Reasons to Come Out to Your Coach

March 15, 2011 § 7 Comments

It may seem unimaginable, why would you want to come out to your coach? In talking with my peers that I counsel, a coach’s reaction to learning we are gay is a common fear – and not without reason. Especially amongst male teams, a fog of homophobia has fallen and severed relationships between coaches and athletes. Some coaches are homophobic and others are macho-centric; most are relatively indifferent coaches simply trying to help. It is important to differentiate between the three, as only one “type” of coach really poses a threat – and I use the word type loosely as I find it best not to categorize people. Yet more often than not, our coaches fall into the latter two categories and honestly just want to help – with our sport that is. 

Many of us spend as much time with our coaches as we do with our parents. They worry about our health, our academics, and our aspirations just like our parents do. They care. Because they care, we should begin believing that coming out to them is not an experience worth sweating over and that it can potentially help save your high school sports career. What follows are 3 reasons why you should contemplate coming out to your coach even if you are afraid to.

1. If there is/will be conflict.

While wearing pads for football can prevent physical damage on the field, a conflict within a team can lead to physical and emotional damage off the field. One of the best reasons to come out to your coach is to stave off any conflict or abuse by allowing your coach the chance to intervene. Often times we are too late to speak up and then we have few ways of ameliorating a conflict. As a coach of High School athletes, your coach has to keep in mind not only your performance on the field but your safety as well and it is his responsibility to protect you and your team.

Simply email your coach and describe the problem or conflict currently brewing and ask for his help. Depending on your coach’s view, you may want to speak to a guidance counselor first who can help mediate the conversation between you and your coach or team. While many coaches are well learned in their sport, conflict resolution may not be their strongest suit – especially a conflict which deals with homosexuality. So be prepared and have some back up just in case.

2. If it is affecting your playing

No matter your coach’s feelings towards homosexuality, the one thing they should care about is how you compete. Be warned that this point does differ between different team dynamics, if you play a team sport like soccer or lacrosse you can be benched, while if you run or swim well, then you have no replacement. Either way, your coach should be interested in knowing why you aren’t competing the way you normally do – though they might not ask.

If you play on a team sport, don’t let getting benched frustrate you unless you can use that frustration to improve. Instead make a point of sitting down to talk to your coach about ways to handle external stresses and your sexuality. Being gay does not make you any less of an athlete, but the stress involved with coming to terms with your sexuality and outside conflicts can take a tole on your execution. So when talking to your coach, keep a level head and explain what is going on in your life and ask for advice on how to focus. Explaining your passion for the sport can only be beneficial as well as explaining your desire to improve.

Once more, consider bringing a counselor into the conversation just to be careful. A counselor can stave away a great deal of uncertainty and miscommunication between you and your coach, thus leading to greater progress.

3. If you want to create progress.

Not to be mistaken for “changing your homophobic coach into an lgbt enthusiast,” this step is more along the lines of promoting action with your coach against homophobia on your team to make it a safer environment for everyone. If your sexuality is not leading to any stress in your life or you feel you can make a difference on your team, why not step up and talk to your coach?

You’ll want to talk to your coach when he has a fair amount of free time so you won’t need to cut the conversation short as you’ll want to cover your important topics. Some of which may be: what is homophobic bullying, how can we prevent it, what rules need to be in place and enforced, how can team captains help, etc… though there are many more and not every topic needs to be talked about. Asking your coach to tell kids to cut it out will be more than sufficient – if he actually acts on it. So be prepared to remind him politely ask explain how he an help clearly.

Now that you have read 3 reasons to come out to your coach, can you think of any other reasons to come out? Or even better - what suggestions do you have for others contemplating coming out to his/her coach?

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§ 7 Responses to 3 Reasons to Come Out to Your Coach

  • gaydadtobe says:

    I wouldn’t even think of coming out to my coach in high school, but I do commend him for something he did do that was just as powerful: he would not tolerate any kind of hazing, harassment, or horseplay on his watch. He set the tone that made it easier for the freshmen to feel like they belong with the seniors. Of course, there was some ribbing, but nothing compared to the bullying seen around the country. If coming out just simply isn’t an option, then discussing with your coach how he sets the tone for harassment can be just as important. The Dateline last Sunday on bullying showed just how easily the coach can allow room for bullying to happen.

    • Craig says:

      Thanks for the comment, you raise an extremely good point! Its interesting that you bring up the Dateline episode from last week – I sat down to watch it with some friends and was surprised by how some of the athletes reacted. With such small numbers, I believe they had 8-9 students per group, 3 were actors the rest were real students, it seemed to be the best case scenario for a bullied student to get help. There was a lack of mob mentality and any immediate action against the bullies would have to be recognized – yet only the one outspoken student really tried to make a difference. His mother should be very proud

      To anyone who wants to watch a portion of the video you can check it out here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/39106685#41941476

      • gaydadtobe says:

        I wrote about it the very next day. I was extremely proud of those 2 kids that did the most–Lilly and Isaiah–and their parents have every reason to think their kids will do something great in the world.

        I sent an email to my track/XC coach this weekend thanking him for that position.

  • tristram says:

    Craig – thanks for the excellent advice.

    There’s a French movie you might enjoy (available on Netflix, with subtitles in English) called “A Cause d’un Garcon/You’ll Get Over It.’ So, yeah, it’s fiction. And there are some sort of wtf moments. But there are also some really great scenes – where the guy’s coach steps up and where his best friend and his ‘girlfriend’ overcome their surprise/disappointment to intervene for him.

    In any case, keep up the good work!

  • JC says:

    Well Craig, you did it to me again! You keep coming up with some great topics that make me think “what if?”

    I’ve been lucky in my coaching career and have had to confront limited bullying issues and certianly nothing as drastic as demonstrated in the video link. So far, nobody has pulled me aside to tell me he’s gay, though I accidentally learned one team member is through a gay oriented website we both use (he was on there first, so I actually had to reverse it and tell him I’m gay). Neither of us are out to the team, but each of us is to a few respective friends and our families. I’ll have to put some thought into suggestions for team members to come out to their coach.

    I did have a freshman that now that I look back on it, was bullied. Different scenario though, in that he wanted it. In his case it was teasing and mild hazing, but for him, it was attention that he was craving and was getting, so had an attitude of “give me all you got.” Ironically, he wanted to go military badly. It finally got to a point where I had enough, and pulled him aside, telling him it had to stop. That if he continued in this direction things would go overboard, he would get hurt, and it certainly wasn’t conduct becoming military personnel. I even told him if he continued this for the next three years I wouldn’t be writing him a letter of recommendation. I pulled aside the offending upperclassmen separately and spoke to them. I left to pursue my master’s after that year so didn’t see how he developed, but my former assistant tells me John got better and is now a military medic.

    I have a group of freshmen now that are probably susceptible to bullying. This post is making me think through things a bit of how to handle possible future incidents. As a non-teacher, I have zero training in this and thanks to you, am going to do some research on what to watch for, how to best intercede, etc.

    You’re posting this and other thought provoking issues will hopefully make me a better coach. In this case, hopefully something I’ll never need to implement, but better to have the skills to do so no matter what. So far you haven’t come up with something I have no thoughts on, but maybe that day will come in the months ahead! Keep up the good work, and even though it’s unintentional, thanks for helping make me a better coach.

  • JC says:

    If you haven’t seen it already, the following is a good link that has suggestions for those wanting to come out or for those that want to help stop bullying.

    http://www.athleteally.com/#

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