Dialogue in Athletics: Fostering Inclusivity in Sports

Here at Oldfields, learning happens both in and out of the classroom. From attitude and accountability to commitment and teamwork, some of the biggest life lessons are taught on the stage, on the athletic fields, and in the riding ring. The young athletes at Oldfields look up to their coaches as mentors and guides throughout their time here. Their coaches believe in and commit to educating the whole child. And in turn, our students create unique bonds with their coaches and teammates, allowing important dialogues to happen within these unique spaces.

Athletics Discussion

Oldfields is committed to having our coaches be prepared when those “teachable moments” arise. That is why Athletic Director Gaby Davis arranged to have coaches and eventually students participate in a six-session program Dialogue in Athletics, led by Jill Kochanek* (currently a PhD candidate in sports psychology and former Oldfields teacher and soccer coach) and Dalvida Palmer '15** (former Oldfields athlete and All-School President). Thanks to the strong coach/athlete bonds that developed during their time at Oldfields, Jill and Dalvida remained in touch. They recently reconnected, given their shared passion for social justice work and the deep desire to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in sports. The result was Dialogue in Athletics, the curriculum of which is adapted from Michigan State University’s similar program. Dialogue in Athletics is “a leadership and social justice education program that aims to teach student-athletes and coaches skills to foster inclusive, empowering cultures and experiences in sports.”

Oldfields’ coaches met to unpack and better understand their role as a coach, but more importantly, as a listener, advocate, and role model for our athletes. Several coaches shared their reflections on their work during the six-session series: 

“Many times as coaches we focus on our own expectations for our team and in that process we can sometimes be more sympathetic rather than empathetic when engaging in dialogue with players and coaching staff. Many of the exercises we did allowed us to practice being active listeners by using the acronym ACT—Ask, Clarify, Tell me more.”          
- Bez Wallace, Basketball Coach

“I feel that this program not only offered an opportunity for our adults on campus to grow closer but also gave us the confidence and preparation to be coaches and advocates through the lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for our students after the school day has ended.”                                           - Mason Rooney, Cross-Country Coach 

"I think Dialogue in Athletics created a structured, open discussion that helped get our coaches/athletes to reflect and consider blind spots that we might not have noticed before. I think also having Jill Kochanek facilitating was a huge plus. Having someone who has a history with the School was helpful in understanding Oldfields culture."                                                                                                                                                              - Mary Kate Thompson, Coach 

The student-athletes are also engaging in a similar dialogue, where they delve into a variety of concepts (i.e. bias, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, identity, social learning, privilege) to build their skills around perspective taking, active listening, and goal setting. The program will culminate in the facilitators’ sharing their findings from both student and coach evaluations. The hope is that this work will be integrated into Oldfields Athletics for the long-term.

*Jill Kochanek (or "Coach K" as many in the Oldfields community know her) is finishing her PhD in kinesiology specializing in the psychosocial aspects of sport (sport psychology) at Michigan State University. She formerly taught U.S. history and psychology and coached at Oldfields from 2012-2015. Her experience at Oldfields informed and inspired her decision to pursue graduate school. Currently, her work as a coach-scholar in research and practice focuses on how to promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice through sport. She is passionate about working with leaders in athletics on how they can create inclusive, empowering contexts that promote individual thriving and social progress. Jill is a diversity/inclusion facilitator at MSU and for colleges/universities and high schools across the country as an external facilitator with the national non-profit Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). 

**Dalvida Palmer attended Oldfields from 2011-2015. She got her BA in Political Science and International Relations, concentrating on Global Health Policy. She then joined the Peace Corps and worked at clinics in West Africa until March of 2020. Dalvida has since been working on global development projects and teaching in Washington, DC.

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