Erica Tibbetts, PhD
Lecturer, Smith College
For me this question has a two-fold answer — one about serving individuals and one about creating a more equitable world for those outside of sport.
We know that athletes perform better when they are motivated, satisfied and safe. But we also know that not all athletes are the same. By understanding the social currents, norms, pressures, expectations, stereotypes, etc., we can understand better athletes' needs and identities. We know that certain individuals are more likely to get injured, drop out, experience traumatic sport events or not even start playing in the first place because of who they are and how they perceive sport to value or devalue them. If we are committed to helping athletes have a good experience (not just a good performance) we have to recognize damaging, racist, sexist, transphobic, classist norms in sport and figure out how to help athletes overcome those. This will lead to greater inclusivity, greater physical and mental well-being for athletes, and, in the end, better performances (not that we should couch everything in performance).Sport reflects and shapes social norms. We can use sport as a place to show that women should be valued as much as men, that gender shouldn't be used as a divider, that racism still exists and we need to focus on eradicating it in our communities, that we can overcome violent norms of competition to instead embrace our opponents or those with different viewpoints. Millions of people engage in and watch sports. If we can create change within sport, we can trickle that change outwards to other areas of society.
Essentially, this is a question of making sure everyone has access to the joy, fun and health benefits that come from sport. But also a question of using sport as a place to instill positive values that will transfer out to other arenas.