Sports can be one of the greatest avenues for teaching life lessons. Through sports, kids are introduced to many kinds of people – teammates of similar age who may become close friends; coaches who teach and instruct through practices and games; officials who serve as authority figures on the field; opponents who present obstacles to overcome; and parents of teammates and opponents.

All of these people make a significant impact, positively and negatively, on our kids at a very impressionable time. It is parents, however, that have the most powerful impact on the youth athlete. Kids spend the most amount of time with parents, beyond practice and games, and seek their approval in both personal and athletic endeavors. It is for this reason that it’s vital for parents to guide their children’s values and perspectives.

The topic of diversity and inclusion has been rising in importance, especially in lacrosse, and it’s a parent’s responsibility to have potentially challenging conversations to foster a child’s understanding. To start the conversation, US Lacrosse offers five tips to help lacrosse parents talk about diversity and inclusion with their kids.

1. Keep Competition in Perspective -- Education is Key 
My parents spent time focusing on whether I tried my best, much more than on the outcome of a game. This fostered a mentality of learning, playing my best for my team, and playing the game for the experience. Lessons of teamwork, respect, communication, dedication, commitment can be lost if lacrosse becomes solely focused on the competition.

2. Lead by Example 
Parents set the example for children’s perspectives and actions, on and off the field. For kids to have the attitude of inclusion and open mindedness, they must first see it authentically lived out by their parents.

3. Acknowledge Teachable Moments 
We have a coach for our lacrosse team, and we have parents as our coaches for life. A game-plan of respect for all people with a positive attitude comes with coaching from our parents.

4. Select a Respectable Program That You Can Trust 
I can speak from personal experience that I enjoyed and gained much more from playing in a program that valued building character over getting wins. Kids may be afraid to speak up against a coach that doesn’t respect all the players, so it is a parent’s responsibility to express concern if someone acts in ways that are exclusionary.

5. Admit Your Shortcomings and Address Them 
We don’t expect parents to be perfect. It can be a powerful moment when parents use personal acts of stereotyping or exclusive behavior to teach kids what went wrong and how it can be corrected.

Conversations about diversity and inclusion may be uncomfortable. It may seem easier to hush a child’s question about why someone looks differently than to answer it. But don’t wait. Having a conversation with your child about diversity and inclusion will allow for a more impactful lacrosse experience, and also develop positive perspectives and character that they will carry for the rest of their life.