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Diversity and inclusion research in sport and exercise

This is an excerpt from Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology 7th Edition With Web Study Guide by Robert Weinberg & Daniel Gould.

Interest in studying diversity and inclusion issues in sport and exercise psychology is increasing. This research has focused on either studying specific populations, such as girls and women in sport, or sport for people with intellectual and physical disabilities or topics such as acculturation in athletes or stereotype threat. The following highlights key findings in each of these areas.


Gender and Sexuality

One of the largest areas of diversity and inclusion research in sport and exercise psychology looks at gender and sexuality. Researchers are studying a range of topics, and some of the more prominent areas of interest include how gender influences sport and physical activity participation, women in sport leadership, and sexual prejudice and sexual orientation in sport.


Gender and Sport and Physical Activity Participation

One of the most studied areas of diversity and inclusion is gender differences associated with sport and physical activity participation. Before discussing this line of research it is important to note that when sex is discussed in the literature it is viewed in the biological sense: One is born male or female. Gender, however is viewed in a cultural context, focusing on the societal norms associated with one's sex. In this chapter gender is often used to refer to both sex and gender.


Research focused on gender and sport and physical activity participation has emerged because worldwide, sport and physical activities have historically been male dominated: men participate at much higher levels than women (Chalabaev, Sarrazin, Fontayne, Boiche & Clement-Guillotin, 2013). While some biological evidence supports relatively small sex differences in performance between men and women, most scholars feel that participation differences are driven by psychosocial determinants such as gender-role stereotypes and gender-role expectations. It is further contended that this occurs through societal messaging that signals that sport involvement is more appropriate for men than for women and through the power of gender-role stereotypes to influence the motivation, self-perceptions, and participation of men and women, with women reporting lower levels of perceived competence, expectations for success, and motivation (Chalabaev et al., 2013).


Traditionally, sport psychology researchers have used Bem's (1993) sex roles or Eccles and Harold's (1991) expectancy value models to explain how stereotypes and gender-related beliefs influence sport and physical activity involvement and performance. Specifically, stereotypes of certain activities (e.g., most sports) being more masculine and appropriate for men versus feminine and more appropriate for women (e.g., dance) are conveyed by society and internalized by individuals. These beliefs then drive behavior, motivation, and self-perceptions and result in more men participating in sport and physical activity than women. It has also been found that the gender-related beliefs that women are less competent and place less value on sports than men do result from parent socialization practices in which parents send messages (often subtle) about the appropriateness of these activities (e.g., parents engage in more rough and tumble play with their boy toddlers than with their girl toddlers or more often purchase sports equipment for boys and dolls for girls) (Colwell & Lindsey, 2005).


Chalabaev and colleagues (2013) have emphasized the importance of alternative stereotype models contending that people do not need to internalize gender-based stereotypes (something the previous theories have contended) for them to negatively affect participation and performance. For instance, if female athletes who play rugby are stereotyped as not being feminine, a female rugby player may be affected by this belief even if she does not internalize it. Specifically, being aware of this stereotype may interfere with her concentration when playing by making her conscious of this attitude. In addition, this stereotype may cause her to avoid participation because she does not want to be criticized for it.