By Mike Woitalla
The NSCAA has added a remarkable piece to its array of resources by launching a “Gay, Lesbian and Ally” page on its web site.
“We have to make it clear the association stands for the acceptance of everyone,” says NSCAA president Jack Huckel, who appointed Dan Woog to head the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) committee.
Huckel says reports of hazing and harassment were part of the impetus to launch the page but it’s also just another part of the NSCAA’s quest to improve coaching.
“The goal of the NSCAA is to make people better coaches,” says Woog. “If a kid is dealing with any issues that prevent him from focusing, he’s not going to be as good a player as he could be. He’s not going to be able to contribute what he could and that impacts the entire team.”
The first of the Frequently Asked Questions on the site is: “I’m not sure why this should be an issue for the NSCAA. Who cares if someone is gay?”
The answer: “You’re exactly right. It doesn’t make a difference if someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). We’re simply providing resources for LGBT athletes and coaches -- and all allies -- so that everyone who plays soccer is assured of all the support they’ll need.
“All coaches want to do the right thing for all athletes -- but they don’t always know how. This information will help all LGBT coaches and athletes feel more comfortable, which means they’ll perform better. It will also help all ‘straight ally’ coaches help them -- becoming better, more successful coaches in the process.”
That gay professional athletes are so reluctant to come out demonstrates the degree of homophobia in sports. David Testo, after a decade of pro ball, came out one month after he was released by the NASL’s Montreal Impact in 2011. Robbie Rogers came out last year after he announced his retirement following a stint with Leeds United. But Rogers returned with the Los Angeles Galaxy, becoming the first openly gay male athlete in a major U.S. pro league.
Both offered insight into their childhoods. Testo, who cited among the reasons for coming out reports of a high rate of suicide among gay teens, said, "I kind of hated myself. When you’re told gay people are sinners and are going to burn in eternal hell and you’re a child, what are you supposed to feel?” Rogers said: "You grow up learning that who you are isn't natural, or is a sin. It does have an impact -- it scares you, it really scares you."
The NSCAA site provides "One-on-One LGBT Support" as well as links to LGBTQ programs and projects. Anticipated questions include, "My player just came out to me, what do I do next?" or "Should I come out to my team?"
For anyone who coaches for a significant amount of time, the odds are they will have on their team gay or lesbian players. They will have straight players on their teams who have gay relatives. Thus the FAQs make for valuable reading.
“The point is not to have kids come out before they’re ready,” says Woog. “The kid wants to be on the soccer field. He looks up to his coach. The time he puts in is really important to him. So coaches need tools -- what they say, what they don’t say, the words they use, the examples they use -- to create an atmosphere where all kids feel comfortable to achieve to their potential.”
This year’s NSCAA Convention in Philadelphia will include, on Jan. 17, a 10:30 am workshop: “Create Safe Space for LGBT Athletes: Be a Winning Coach” with a panel including Dan Woog (boys varsity coach, Staples High School/author on LGBT issues); Mike Bryant (Center for Leadership in Athletics, University of Washington): Erin DeMarco (head coach, Bryn Mawr College) and Atticus DeProspo (Cornell University varsity player).
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, is co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper and co-author with Claudio Reyna of More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)