Play by the ‘Right’ Rules and Inclusion is Possible

Diversity and Inclusion in Grassroots Sports
09/01/2020 16:14

By rule of thumb, competition vs. diversity and inclusion is somewhat of a contradiction in the world of sports. What if one changes the rules? Rules are made for a certain purpose. If the purpose of the rules are adapted to favour inclusion and push for competition, then an inclusive and diverse playing field can be formed.


Sports being a competitive environment can exclude children through disrespect and violence. This conflict is also an issue in grassroots sports, since it is a key component of human development.


With consideration to the implications of a competitive sports environment, ICSSPE invited experts and practitioners in the fields of sport, including disability sport, physical education, and physical activity to share and discuss the current theoretical and practical trends of an inclusive and diverse environment in grassroots sports.


The videoconference, addressed key questions such as; how can current competitive sports shift towards a more educational approach and how can parents can play a role in supporting and promoting inclusive sports. Michelle Friedrich, an academic in the field of physical education, guided the discussion by presenting forms of competition which are inclusive and the current diversity and inclusion trends in grassroots sports programmes. Ken Black, founder of the Inclusion Club, supported the conversation with best practice examples of ‘zoning, a concept which encourages inclusion through game and rule modifications.


Balanced Competition

Promoting competition which is balanced through encouraging cooperative skills (teamwork) and achievement of motivation (skill mastery) help to build an inclusive sports environment. Balanced competition have been put into practice by several inclusive sports programmes. However, empirical evaluations of the programmes show ambiguous results concerning the significance of competition in inclusive sports settings. Apparently, the programmes still have issues with social dominance, exclusive tendencies and think within categories. This is especially prevalent when the focus is on competition. However, children naturally compete and compare skills, it is a part of child development. Parents and coaches should be aware of youth perception of competition in order to monitor and guide the natural tendencies to compete to make it meaningful.


The Role of Parents

Although inclusivity is a value in many sports programmes, they are usually not designed with an inclusive setting in mind. Programmes take on task orientated climates, which allow individual development of skills without pressure in taking on too many challenging skills. Central aspects for successful inclusive sports programmes include positive and supportive behaviour of parents and a good parent-coach relationship. This requires raising awareness among parents of diversity principles, of youth development and the challenges of transitions.


View Michelle Friedrich’s full presentation on some of the most recent theories regarding topics of inclusion and diversity in grassroots sports here.



The concept of zoning, is used to create an inclusive sports environment. A zonal approach to sports is the idea that players are matched by ability and split into different zones within the playing field. This allows for more and balanced opportunity to participate, thus creating an environment where all participants are included and a diverse team can be fielded. Watch the video of the different sport drills and games on ICSSPE’s YouTube channel.