Inclusive Sport

Inclusive Sport
Inclusive Sport

PE For Everyone

Inclusive Sport and Physical Education

PE and sport have specifically been cited by trans, non-binary and gender exploring students as places where they feel excluded, uncomfortable and have had negative experiences.  Trans and non-binary youth often drop out of sport because of traumatic and negative experiences.  Sport and PE could do more to contribute to the general wellbeing of students, rather than be a space where some students experience trauma and do not want to participate.  It is up to PE teachers and coaches to set an example and create an inclusive environment where all students feel safe and have a positive experience with sport and activities.  

Overall school policy for better trans inclusion is a start, but PE teachers and sport coaches need to take specific action to make sport and PE an experience that is positive, safe and inclusive for all trans, non-binary and gender exploring students.  

The first step is for PE teachers and any sport coaches at the school is to attend LGBTQI+ and/or transgender or gender diversity training.  Training can help prepare PE teachers and coaches to better understand what the needs are of trans, non-binary and gender exploring students and what they need to change to make PE classes and sport sessions more inclusive.  Once teachers and coaches have been through training, as they begin to decide how to adjust their PE and sport sessions and facilities, it is important to remember:

  • Not all trans, non-binary and gender exploring students will have the same needs or want to participate in the same way.  It is essential to give options and allow students ownership over how they would like to participate.
  • Not all schools are the same.  Some schools may have more changing facilities available.  Some schools may have limited resources and can only offer certain sport options.  Thinking through possibilities for your school with other teachers and ideally with some trans, non-binary or gender exploring students is a good way to decide what will work best at your school.
  • Give options and be ready to be flexible! As stated above, every person is different and you may not create options that feel comfortable and safe for everyone with your first try, but this is why getting feedback from students and being open and creative to change is so important.

How to make PE sessions more inclusive

Here are different ways that PE teachers and sport coaches can make sessions that are inclusive:

  • Avoid gender-segregated activities when possible because students may not feel comfortable choosing to play with the boys or the girls.  For example, what would a non-binary student choose?  You can have mixed groups or teams and use colors or team names to divide the group.  You can also allow students to organize themselves into groups they will often base this on those less/more experienced on a specific activity. This also helps reduce gender stereotypes in sport.
  • If you must have gender-segregated groups, then allow students to change groups depending on where they feel most comfortable and talk to the other students in the group about welcoming all students and creating a safe and inclusive environment, if this seems impossible you could allow differentiated roles and responsibilities.  
  • Use inclusive language! Anytime you are addressing students, use inclusive and gender-neutral language such as “Welcome, everyone” instead of saying “Welcome, boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen.” 
Do Not Say: Do Say:
Welcome boys and girls Welcome everyone
Listen ladies Listen team
Listen Gentlemen Listen players
Man up You’ve got this
Don’t be a girl Just keep trying
  • Give ALL students positive encouragement using gender neutral language. For students who have had negative experiences in sport and PE in the past, getting positive encouragement can create a positive experience.
  • Provide gender-neutral clothing options for PE and sport participation. All students should be given the option to wear the gym uniforms they feel most comfortable and safe in, and this should not be dependent on gender. 
  • Respect how individual students want to participate. This may be that a student who has had negative experiences in certain sports wants to play a different sport, or play in a way that is more comfortable, for example touch rugby instead of contact rugby.  Speak with students individually about what they want to do in PE.
  • Whenever possible, talk about positive representations of trans, non-binary and LGBTQ+ people in sport. This helps raise visibility and shows your support for inclusion and awareness.  
  • Respect your students by using the name and pronouns they choose to go by at all times. The most inclusive practice is to ask ALL students which names and pronouns they use, not just those students you suspect might be trans or nonbinary. If you single out a particular student in front of the rest of the class, you could potentially be putting them at risk for harassment from other students.

Pronouns are not a preference

When someone shares with you the pronouns they want you to use for them, it is important to respect this.

Having individual conversations with students from the beginning of the school year and checking in with them throughout the year is a good way to know how all students are doing, if they feel comfortable and safe in PE and sport sessions, and if they are gender exploring or experiencing changes or new challenges related to their gender.  But, as PE teachers and coaches will learn in training, you should never assume a student’s gender or call them by names or pronouns that they have not asked you for.  There are some simple ways to ask questions that can lead to better understanding of how you can support a student to have a more positive experience in PE or sport.  

Some of these are:

“Is there anything specific you are struggling with in this class?”

“How can I support you to do your best in this class?” 

It is also important to give students time to answer, they may not be ready to talk about what is going on with them, but it will give them space to give you feedback about how PE is going for them. 

Addressing bullying in PE and sport classes is also really important. See the section of the guide called “Being an Ally” for guidance on how to address bullying.

You may get things wrong from time to time. Always show a growth mindset and be open and accessible with your students, creating an inclusive environment for all develops the leaders of tomorrow. Be the teacher they remember for making a positive difference in their life.