Inclusive Coaching

Originally posted June 2020

I haven’t always been an inclusive coach. When I first started coaching, I cared about treating everyone like a human being and considered myself an ally, but I wasn’t aware of how my whiteness and ignorance impacted my language, behavior, and decisions. I acknowledge that I was part of the problem in our derby culture. I have been educating myself and working to change that, with the knowledge that I will always need to learn more. I hope that other coaches can have similar realizations and always strive to learn and improve. You aren’t expected to be perfect, but you are expected to understand your position of power and seek out ways to create a more inclusive, safe space.  

Coaches have an incredible amount of power. It’s so important to acknowledge the power we have and use our leadership role to make derby culture more inclusive and safe. We can make intentional decisions so that our behavior and language are not focused on creating a space that is only safe for white, cis, wealthy, allistic folks. We must actively choose to create a space that is inclusive and safe for marginalized folks. 

Throughout my time as a coach, there are so many things I’ve learned about how systemic oppression, racism, and transphobia impact derby culture, and I want to share those in an effort to help coaches who genuinely want to create positive change. I am always learning, and what I offer is not ALL the ways you can be an inclusive coach.

Educate Yourself 

Educate yourself about racism, transphobia, sexual violence, capitalism, and mental health. Instead of learning what you are or aren’t “supposed to do or say,” learn WHY these issues exist and how they impact people. If you learn that you aren’t supposed to say “mohawk,” but you don’t know the history of genocide and cultural appropriation of Indigenous peoples, then you are only learning social etiquette. When people focus on learning social etiquette (the behaviors that are socially acceptable and unacceptable) they are focusing on themselves and what they need to do in order to be accepted in society. That’s not education. 

When trying to educate yourself, do not ask marginalized folks to educate you. There are loads of resources at your fingertips: articles, videos, documentaries, books. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask a trustworthy ally who is white and/or cis for help. 


Language is incredibly powerful, so understanding how your language can be harmful and making changes to be more inclusive is one way to make people feel more safe. 

Review the Names of Drills, Skills, and Strategies

There are many commonly used words/phrases in derby that are racially insensitive, culturally appropriative, gendered, and insensitive to folks who struggle with mental illnesses. Rename things that use harmful language. Some examples include:

  • Use “turn-around toe-stops” and “side surfing” instead of archaic culturally-insensitive language
  • Use “all-gender” instead of “co-ed”
  • Use “Champion of the Rink” instead of “Queen of the Rink”
  • Use “helmet covers” instead of “panties”
  • Use “Danger Zone Seating” or “Adults Only Seating” instead of “Suicide Seats” 
  • Use “skaters” or “everyone” instead of ladies/guys
Be Aware of Racial Microaggressions

Microaggressions are commonplace comments that communicate hostility and dehumanization towards oppressed and marginalized groups of people. It may be intended as a harmless comment, a compliment, or even a curious question, but it is received as harmless and hurtful. Be aware of microaggressions so you don’t commit them, and call in/out folks who do.

  • Don’t make statements that assert that race does not play a role in one’s ability to succeed in life (Myth of Meritocracy). For example, “everyone can succeed if they just work hard enough.”
  • Understand that colorblind attitudes devalue a person of color’s experiences with race/racism and refuses to acknowledge the historic and present discrimination and oppression that Black and Brown people face. Colorblind comments include “I do not see color/race” or “there is only one race: the human race.” 
  • Avoid using racially-charged or racially-coded language as normative or pejorative language (examples: ghetto, thug, ratchet).
  • Learn the names of people of color and make sure that you don’t call a person of color by the name of another person of color. For example, referring to an Asian skater by the name of a different Asian skater or a Black skater by the name of a different Black skater.
  • Do not refer to a skater of color by the color of their skin rather than the color of their jersey. Be aware that this commonly happens with Black skaters who aren’t wearing black jerseys, but are referred to as “Black 7” instead of “White 7” or “Blue 7.” Correct an official if you hear them doing this and ask them to be more aware.
  • Be aware that just because someone is Latinx or Asian, it doesn’t mean that they don’t understand and speak English or weren’t born in the country you reside.
Be Aware of Transphobic Language

Transphobia is behavior, communication, or actions that are malicious and/or derogatory toward folks who identify as transgender, genderfluid, genderqueer, nonbinary, or other non-cisgendered identities. Understand that gender identity is not something you assign to someone, but rather something a person determines for themselves. You can help create a safe space for trans skaters by:

  • Making sure that introductions always include names and pronouns.
  • When a new skater joins a practice, start with introductions so everyone can share their pronouns and you learn the pronouns of the new person.
  • When talking about general strategies and positions, use gender-neutral pronouns. Instead of “if the jammer is on the inside, use xxx skill to catch HER,” you can say “use xxx skill to catch them.”
  • Encourage skaters to use gender-neutral pronouns they/them when communicating in the pack about an opponent whose pronouns are unknown. Instead of “she’s on the inside,” use “they’re on the inside.”
  • If someone uses the wrong pronoun during practice or games, quickly correct it and move on: “Punchy uses they/them pronouns. Does anyone have a question before we start the drill?” Or have conversations with folks about how they want you to handle a misgendering situation. 
  • If you misuse someone’s pronouns or misgendering occurs, regardless of intent, quickly apologize and correct your language. Do not make the apology about yourself and do not get emotional. Just apologize and don't do it again.
  • If an announcer is using the wrong pronouns during a game, quickly address it or ask someone to let the announcer know. 
  • Do not engage in bioessentialist language, which equates physical anatomy to gender, personality traits, and skills, like “women have vaginas” and “that takes balls.”
Be Aware of Language that is Insensitive Toward Mental Illness
  • Use “wild” or a more specific adjective instead of “crazy” or “insane”
  • Use “disappointing” or a more specific adjective instead of “lame”
  • Never refer to general sadness as depression or use “depressing” as an adjective for something that is sad. Instead of “I am so depressed that practices are canceled,” say “I am so upset that practices are canceled.”
  • Never refer to a general preference for organization as “OCD.” Instead of “I am so OCD,” say “I am intensely organized.”
Use People First and Identity First Language 

People First Language is language that emphasizes the person rather than their condition or situation. When you use language that identifies a person by their condition or situation it implies that they are defined by their condition or situation, rather than it being one (temporary or permanent) aspect of them as a person. However, Identify First Language - language that identifies individuals the way they want to be identified - is preferred by some individuals and groups who are part of disabled communities. It can be difficult to know what language to use, but you should ask a person how they want to be identified when referring to an individual. When you need to refer to a group of people, research that group to learn what language they prefer. Some People First Language examples are:

  • Instead of “handicapped people,” use “people with disabilities.”
  • Instead of “addicts,” use “people with substance use disorders.”
  • Instead of “homeless people” or “the homeless,” use “people experiencing homelessness.”
Do Not Tone Police 

Tone Policing is when a person criticizes someone for having an emotional response or criticizes how someone responds to something. Tone policing is a silencing tactic used against marginalized people. There is no “right” way to communicate one’s experience, and it’s important to acknowledge this. Ways to avoid tone policing include, but are not limited to: 

  • Believing a person from a marginalized community when they express their experience or feelings, rather than telling them how they should feel or how they should express their feelings or talk about their experience.
  • If you hold privileges that a person sharing their experience does not, you need to accept that learning about their experience might make you feel uncomfortable or upset, but your emotional response does not negate their experience or require the person to change how they talk about it. 
  • Don’t require someone to be more polite or less emotional when reporting on their experience (example: “We can’t discuss this issue until you calm down”). If someone is in distress, show compassion by validating their experience and asking what they need.


It’s not just what you say that can make a space safe or unsafe—it’s how you behave and the choices you make. Unfortunately, there are many ways that a coach’s behavior impacts safety and inclusivity, but there are also many ways a coach can make positive changes. 

Consider Implicit Biases

Implicit bias is “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions” which are “activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.” Implicit bias can lead to treating people in favorable or unfavorable ways. The more you are aware of stereotypes and acknowledge how they impact you unconsciously, the more you can work against them. 

  • When assessing skaters, be aware of ingrained implicit biases that impact how you assess a person of color and trans folks. They are often assessed with impossible standards that are meant to exclude them. Actively look for positive qualities and ways to include, rather than exclude. 
  • This goes for team placement, rostering, and game play: actively look for positive qualities and ways to include, rather than exclude. 
  • Do not equate race as a judgment for style or level of play. This implicit bias leads to coaches labeling a Black skater as “too aggressive” or “too loud.” It can also lead to coaches referring to Black skaters as “natural athletes.” 
  • Do not equate biology/physical anatomy, gender assigned at birth, or hormone usage as a judgment for style/level of play. This implicit bias leads to coaches labeling a trans skater as being “too aggressive” or “out of control/reckless/dangerous/unsafe.” 
  • There are many stereotypes about people who have mental illnesses. Don’t accuse someone with a mental illness as being violent or dangerous. Never trivialize mental illnesses (like depression or anxiety, for example) as something a person can just “get over.”
  • Be aware of stereotypes about people experiencing poverty. Do not accuse someone of being lazy or lacking dedication because they are experiencing poverty and cannot afford equipment, trips, time off work, babysitters, etc. 
Do Not Tolerate Cultural Appropriation

Engaging in cultural appropriation is when the dominant (white) culture takes/uses something from a minority culture for their own gain or profit. This is typically a very difficult concept for many people to understand, as it is often misunderstood with cultural appreciation. Some examples of cultural appropriation that occur in training or games are:

  • Using a derby name that uses language specific to a minority culture that you do not belong to or wearing a shirt/jersey with a culturally appropriated name.
  • Wearing logos that use a person of a minority status or cultural symbol in it.
  • Painting your face to look like a person of another race or culture (examples: wearing Day of the Dead paint, Blackface, Indigenous face paint).

If someone at a practice is wearing a jersey or shirt that has a culturally appropriated name or logos, ask them to change their shirt and let them know you’d like to explain and talk to them after practice. Prior to games, talk about culturally appropriated face paint and explain why that is harmful. If someone shows up to a game with this kind of face paint, ask that they wash it off and talk to them after the game about it.

Consent and Sexual Violence

Sexual Violence is non-consenting and/or unwelcome actions, regardless of intent. “Sexual violence” is a broad term that encompasses sexual harassment and sexual assault. Consent should be asked for and given for any kind of touching outside of normal derby contact. Coaches can help create an environment safe from sexual violence by:

  • Making clear distinctions between derby touching and nonderby touching. Just because you touch in the sport does not give you access to everyone’s bodies at all times. 
  • Before touching someone during an explanation of a drill or strategy, let them know what kind of touching you need to do and ask if it’s okay to touch them.
  • Do not ask people to hold hands or touch each other during team talks or any kind of gathering.
  • Ask someone if they want a hug or physical affection (patting their back or putting an arm around them) before attempting to touch them. Know that if someone agrees to you touching them in that moment, it does not guarantee you to touch them again. You need consent for every interaction.
  • Do not comment on someone’s body. 
  • Do not make sexually suggestive gestures or sexual comments at or about an individual or group.
  • Do not make jokes about or gossip about someone’s sex, sexual orientation, or sex life.
  • Do not engage in slut-shaming: comments that make someone feel shame, guilt, or inferiority for their real or perceived sexual behavior, appearance, or demeanor.
  • Believe people who report sexual violence.
  • Before inviting teams, coaches, and volunteers, do your research. Make sure you aren’t inviting someone who has a history of sexual violence.
Recognize Ableist Practices

Ableism is “the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. A set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical, or psychiatric disabilities.” Ways that coaches can avoid ableist behaviors is to:

  • Consider the physical condition of colorblindness when choosing jersey colors for games and scrimmages. Certain color combinations are impossible to distinguish for folks with colorblindness.
  • Encourage folks to manage mental health issues without punishing someone for doing so.
  • Believe someone if they say they can’t do something and don’t tell them things like “you just need to keep practicing” or “you need to get over your fear of x, y, z.”
  • Do not judge how hard someone is trying by the expression on their face. Doing so suggests that people need to exhibit specific emotions in order for their reality to be legitimized.
  • Allow for healthy emotional expression (expression that is controlled, rather than taken out on others). For example, people experiencing depression may not be able to smile and be “upbeat.” Do not require them to exhibit specific emotions like feigning happiness or positivity. Instead, accept that someone’s lack of visible happiness is not proof of their lack of commitment, determination, or teamwork. 
  • Encourage positive self-talk. Engage in it and ask others to do so, as well. For example, instead of “I can’t do hockey stops,” say “I am trying to learn or improve my hockey stops.”
  • Provide practice plans in advance (through email or by some digital means). This will help skaters know what to expect and prepare emotionally and mentally. This will also provide a resource for skaters who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
  • Understand that allistic people and neurodivergent people communicate very differently. An allistic person might view direct, neurodivergent communication as rude or mean. Ask questions to make sure you understand what someone is trying to communicate before making judgements about them. 
Recognize Financial Privilege

Financial privileged discrimination is when a person is unable to recognize the experiences of people experiencing poverty. Coaches should be aware of their own financial privilege (if they are financially privileged), so they are compassionate toward folks who do not share that privilege.

  • Accepting that not everyone can afford to buy new equipment, purchase a $75 jersey, or pay for a flight. Don’t tell a skater to buy new wheels or toe stops when you realize those things would be an improvement for their training. When this situation arises or other financial obligations arise, provide opportunities for someone who is experiencing financial difficulties.
    • Loaner gear: if you are suggesting that someone should buy new wheels or new pads, provide an option for people who can’t afford to do so.
    • Scholarships: if a team is traveling and people are responsible for those costs, provide a scholarship or help raise money to ensure that someone isn’t excluded because they can’t afford it.
  • Give advance notice (weeks, if not months) for games, events, and meetings, so people can plan their schedules. Some folks need to give at least two week’s notice to get time off work. Some folks need to find babysitters. And some folks are not able to get time off work or find a babysitter because it exacerbates their financial situations. Provide alternatives, whenever possible. For example, have team meetings on zoom and record the meeting for anyone who can't make it. 
  • Consider your systems for rostering—do they make it difficult or impossible for skaters who have demanding work and/or home schedules? Provide practice plans in advance and online to allow skaters who are unable to attend practice the ability to view what they’ve missed and stay connected.
Interleague Gameplay 

If your team is invited to play another league or attend a tournament, talk to the liaison and make sure that all the spaces you will inhabit are places that are safe for all of your skaters, officials, and volunteers. Some questions you can ask are:

  • What kind of anti-racist training is provided for officials, skaters, and volunteers?
  • What kind of training about transphobia and the gender binary is provided for officials, skaters, and volunteers?
  • Do any of the officials, skaters, or volunteers have a history of sexual violence?
  • What process is provided for someone to report racism, transphobia, and sexual violence?
  • What is the theme of the bout or afterparty?
  • Do the skaters respect and use people’s pronouns? Are they going to default to “she” when talking about our skaters?
  • Is the announcer given a list of skater names and pronouns and have you had any issues with announcers using the wrong pronoun?
  • Are your announcers able to differentiate between skaters of the same nonwhite race? Have you had issues with announcers calling a Person of Color by the name of a different Person of Color?
  • Are officials aware of the implicit bias that leads them to sometimes refer to Black skaters by their skin color rather than their jersey color when calling penalties, and how do they manage this throughout a game? 
  • Are officials aware of their implicit bias that leads them to more harshly penalize and punish Black skaters, and how do they manage this throughout a game?  
  • Does your town/city have a history of being hostile to People of Color or trans people? 
  • Does the bouting venue and afterparty have an all-gender bathroom?   

If the league you are considering playing does not seem safe for your team, officials, and volunteers, then do not accept the invitation or ask for changes to be made. Additionally, do research on the teams you invite to your venue, so you aren’t inviting folks who will make your spaces unsafe. 

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Return-to-Play Training
Originally published May 2020