Under-represented groups – including marginalized youth, Indigenous people, and newcomers – are more likely to experience barriers to participation in sport. In March 2023, Volleyball Nova Scotia formed an Idea Committee to brainstorm actionable ways to address anti-racism and inclusivity in the sport.
The committee invited community members to share their stories, and while a survey may sound unglamorous, it’s an invaluable tool to gauge the feelings and opinions of a large, diverse group.
Last winter, the survey was sent out to Volleyball Nova Scotia’s 2,000 members, and 600 responses were collected. “We had amazing uptake,” says Megan Conroy, Technical Director of Volleyball Nova Scotia. “People shared their opinions and experiences in an anonymous format, which allowed some truths to come forward.”
Through the survey responses, the committee identified short-term and long-term recommendations to tackle anti-racism in the organization. Some were immediately actionable, like seeking out professional development sessions and online training on inclusivity and anti-racism for coaches, referees, volunteers and club directors. “Ignorance is not a valid response anymore,” Conroy says. “There are opportunities out there to educate ourselves.”
Some members of Volleyball Nova Scotia have attended inclusion and anti-racism sessions through Sport Nova Scotia and the National Coaches Certification Program’s anti-racism in coaching training. “It’s available, it’s free, and it’s a fantastic learning opportunity,” Conroy says of the program.
The survey also revealed a need for structural and systemic changes, which would require a long-term strategy. “Traditional regulations, structures and guidelines in sport prohibits people from even wanting to put their foot in the door,” Conroy says. The organization is currently working to identify systemic barriers and remove them to allow everyone to participate in sport. Some feedback indicated the value of listening to what’s needed in different communities and adapting programs to overcome unique geographical or financial barriers.
Accountability is another essential piece of anti-racism initiatives. If a coach or referee makes a mistake or a misstep, owning that wrongdoing is key, Conroy says. “It’s really important to acknowledge that misstep, listen to the voices telling you that you’ve gone awry, and commit to learning to be better.” Members’ feedback showed that coaches should take a proactive approach and speak with teams about anti-racism efforts in an empathetic and open way, rather than waiting to address issues after they happen.
Representation matters, too. Seeing Black, Indigenous, or people of colour in leadership positions makes an impact. “A member shared how important it was for her Black son to see somebody who looked like him on the referee stand leading the game,” Conroy says. They even took a picture together. “Visibility helps young people see that there is a place for them – as a referee, as a coach, as an athlete, as a board member, or as a volunteer.”