As a passionate football supporter born in Streatham, South London, I was aware my pathway into mainstream sport would prove to be more difficult. The sports landscape was quite different when I was growing up. Roles in Equity & Inclusion did not exist, and there was a lack of focus on youths from ethnically diverse communities. Nonetheless, I always remained hopeful and motivated to carry a responsibility to create positive lanes for such individuals one day.
I am proud to say that my lived experiences in my earlier life have enabled me to understand the challenges faced by a pool of young people to fulfil their aspirations in sport. Every day, I feel lucky enough to live out my dream of assisting in the governance of a sport I remained hopeful of being a part of as a child. I remember the challenges that motivated me to pursue a career in this field and why I wanted to offer my support to the community by creating equal pathways in mainstream sports for ambitious youth from diverse backgrounds.
My journey to drive diversity in sport
Sport has the power to foster a greater appreciation for inclusivity. Creating a diverse sporting environment where all individuals are treated equally.
In April 2019, I was appointed Equality & Inclusion Coordinator at Fulham Football Club, transitioning from a football community coach. My role at the club is to implement policies that celebrate diversity, promote inclusion and my aim is to make younger generations from ethnically diverse communities feel like they belong. And I believe that driving diversity through role modeling and leadership will help the club bring lasting change. And it’s not just about getting leadership to drive change. I myself am dedicated to mentoring younger individuals to overcome societal and psychological barriers to chase their dreams of being professional athletes and sports professionals.
To create lasting and meaningful change for future generations, I believe there are fundamental traits that should be driven by organisations and role modeled by leaders. So here are the key principles I believe every leader should bring to their teams in an effort to drive diversity.
Drive diversity with a focus on lasting change
The sports industry is continuously evolving. As a result, we are now seeing more roles opening up in mainstream sports for those who could not make it as professional athletes. From working towards becoming a fitness coach or trainer, to working as a sports psychologist or referee, there are now numerous ways young people can turn their skills and knowledge into a successful career. But ensuring a level playing field for all starts much earlier on and it is the responsibility of leadership to make this happen. By doing so, they can change the paths of others to make a massive difference on both a personal and societal level.
Many sporting establishments are now starting to partner with schools and universities to create internship opportunities that will steer younger generations away from participating in criminal activities. Working in sport will not only improve self-efficacy and confidence, but also lead youth to explore positive career choices whilst increasing workforce diversity.
And as the younger, more diverse generations develop along their career journey, they too will have the chance to develop into the leaders of the future. And by gaining more diverse leadership perspectives, we will also close the diversity and inclusion gap in the sports landscape. Fortunately, my life experiences allow me to identify with the struggles of the racial minorities today. They also provide me with the tools to encourage optimism and inspire change.
Leading by example to develop future leaders
Leadership is one of the key factors especially in any sporting environment. It empowers the effectiveness of teams and the development of individuals in aim of achieving targets. Having effective and diverse leadership has become a core focus for numerous sports organisations globally and it is increasingly being highlighted as a unique form of training that eventually gives rise to elite performance.
It is important to learn from more experienced and inspirational leaders that have come before you. One of which I follow closely – Steve Spurrier, the legendary American football coach who has led many teams to success during his tenure. His principles are simple; “lead by example.”
According to Steve, a great leader will always bring more than just words to the table. Their own personality, traits and behavior are what greatly influence the group under his leadership. “words are pretty cheap in life.” He therefore states that leaders should embody the message that they want their participants to embrace.
The value of listening to drive diversity
I believe it has now become more important than ever for leadership to have open conversations with younger generations. As adults, it is our responsibility to set a precedent by creating spaces for youth where they feel safe to talk about difficult and important topics, such as racism, sexism, mental health, and privilege. Leaders need to understand the issues others face before they can start to address them. And that means they need to listen.
Engaging in dialogue with young people can better equip them to navigate the world and learn about the opportunities that exist, while also giving them a sense of belonging along the way.
I am committed to spreading awareness about the importance of inclusion and how it motivates teams to become more productive and reach new heights of success.
There are various different models of leadership, with some suggesting that personality characteristics can ascertain whether a person will be an effective or ineffective as a leader in a sporting context.
While this may well be true, one important thing that I believe these concepts miss is the importance of being resilient. Overcoming adverse circumstances, staying true to your purpose and goals is what creates truly inspirational leaders. In the context of diversity, this can be seen from two different perspectives: From a leader who has to fight to ensure the level playing field exists for all, or from those from diverse backgrounds getting their heads down to ensure their potential is fully met.
High-performing leaders in sport must be resilient in order to advance and thrive. They must foster resilience and bear responsibility for protecting the spirit of those in their teams by upholding the values of inclusiveness and diversity.
I believe my own journey into mainstream sport tells its own story on how remaining resilient can keep dreams alive.