Team camaraderie plays a large part in overall team performance, as well as in how each player performs individually. The panelists in this session, The Power of Inclusive Leadership, discussed how an inclusive team environment correlates to team success, both on and off the field. 

Coaches and team leaders must both proactively take responsibility for creating an inclusive culture. The panelists noted the importance of coaches clearly outlining their values to their players.

“If your coach isn’t setting the right example, then you’re probably not going to have a team that’s inclusive,” said Daniela Eppler, a former player at the University of Virginia and now a player and coach for Team Mexico. “Leadership is immensely important to create the right environment. Part of that, for coaches, is in recruiting diverse groups of people. Having people with different backgrounds and beliefs on your team is a good start.”

A unified effort is critical for success.

“As a team sport, if you want any level of success in lacrosse, everyone has to be pulling on the same rope,” said Cody Jamieson, former player at Syracuse University and a current professional player for the Halifax Thunderbirds. “Inclusivity, to me, is everyone pulling on that rope together. That starts with the coaches, and the captains, and trickles all the way down.”

The panelists stressed the importance of having a team environment that is safe, welcoming, and comfortable for everyone.

“Being inclusive is about accepting people for who they are,” said moderator Angie Benson, a senior goalie at Virginia Tech.

“More than just being welcomed, inclusion means that everyone feels valued,” Eppler added. “It’s important to have an environment where everyone feels equally valued.”

Noah Knopf, a 2020 graduate of Harvard University, spoke about the power of acceptance. During his senior season, Knopf disclosed to his teammates that he was gay

“When I told my teammates I was gay, and they reacted so positively, it really meant the world to me,” he said. “I can’t put into words what an affirmation it was to have my teammates’ support.”

While the power of affirmation can lift a player and team, conversely, a culture of non-acceptance can serve as an anchor holding down a team’s rise to its full potential.

“I’ve been on teams where the overall culture wasn’t where it needed to be, and that can be a struggle,” said Chad Toliver, a former player at Rutgers University and professionally with the MLL’s Philadelphia Barrage. “Once that changes, I’ve seen a correlation to improvements on the field play.”

Taking the time to get to know teammates is a good way to break down potential barriers and build camaraderie. Having open and respectful discussions about different viewpoints is encouraged. Doing simple things, like sharing meals, can be helpful by allowing good conversation to flow in a casual setting. 

“We have to bond in order to compete,” Benson said. “Our defensive unit always has lunch or dinner together. That helps us to get closer and to become a tight-knit unit.”

Toliver noted the need for accountability to help move everyone forward.

“It’s not about just doing the right things when the coaches are around,” he said. “Teammates have to keep each other accountable when everyone is away from the locker room also, to make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

“Take ownership of your own behavior,” Knopf said. “What kind of language do I use? What does my behavior say about the values of our team? And how do I treat people? How do I treat the freshman, or the guys who don’t play too much? How do I treat the people that are not at the center of the team’s social circle?”

In the end, the panelists noted how good leadership makes everyone better, and provides everyone on the team with the necessary tools to succeed. 

“You are giving them what they need to feel valued and to work hard to be successful,” Eppler said. 

Creating an Inclusive Culture

US Lacrosse has developed a Best Practices guide to further assist teams and programs with integrating inclusivity and accessibility for everyone.

Learn More