Cultural Competency


To finish off the semester, our Equity & Access students looked at how sport can serve as a vehicle to teach about diversity and bridge the difference between cultures. Here are their thoughts.

By: Harrison Stackpole


Cultural competency is defined as “a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enables them to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.”[1]

An organization called Diversity Training University International isolated four components for developing cultural competencies as follows:

  • Awareness (consciousness of one’s personal reactions to people who are different);
  • Attitude (the difference between training that increases awareness of cultural bias and beliefs in general and training that has participants carefully examine their own beliefs and values about cultural differences);
  • Knowledge (our values and beliefs about equality); and
  • Skills (practicing cultural competence to perfection).[2]

Cultural competence has become an important element of diversity training throughout the continued assimilation of the myriad of different peoples and their traditions as part of the metaphor of the American “melting pot” (a heterogeneous society becoming more homogenous within the different elements, “melting together into a harmonious whole with a common culture”). “Melting pot” is a term that came into general use in this country after the premiere of the play The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill in 1908.[3]

From a utilitarian standpoint, this concept was originally equated with Caucasian assimilation by other cultures into American society; however, our own history and a commitment to equality by virtue of the elimination of segregation, enactment of civil rights legislation, and recognition of the importance of values and contributions of non-white cultures to the “fabric” of America has made cultural competence more of a mandated, as opposed to a cooperative, process.


The theme of the United States as a “melting pot” has been employed to explain American athletic success dating back to the re-introduction of the Olympic Games as an important aspect of national self-image. Native Americans (such as Jim Thorpe during the Stockholm Games of 1912) and African-Americans (such as Jesse Owens during the Berlin Games of 1936) served as examples. A counter-example was the “Black Power” salutes of John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Mexico City Games that symbolized the rejection of assimilation, as well as notions of racism and inequality. This concept has translated through to the Winter Olympics as a number of cultural entities (such as African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans) have enjoyed success at events that have been traditionally associated with Europeans and Caucasian North Americans, such as speed skating and bobsledding. It is also noteworthy that the 2002 Winter Olympic Games were held in Salt Lake City, an area of the country traditionally associated with the Mormon religion and where notions of Caucasian elitism had prevailed for decades.

More obvious examples of continued American efforts to engage in athletic cultural competence include the inclusion of women in sports by virtue of Title IX legislation, Jackie Robinson in baseball, Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe in tennis, and Eldrick “Tiger” Woods in golf. The assimilation continues where cultures are now being introduced in sports where notions that only certain ethnicities and cultures were competent to compete (such as swimming) previously prevailed.


Cultural competence in sport clearly serves as an example of how it can stand as a positive influence in American society. We must be mindful, however, that the only standard by which it is measured is in the simple form of athletic success (i.e., winning). The implementation of cultural competence becomes more complicated and difficult when other forums (such as business, education, politics and principles of morality in general) are brought into the equation as American society has proven to be less willing to cooperate when profits are affected or our personal and private beliefs come into play.

[1] National Center of Cultural Competence, Definition For Cultural Competency In The Health Professions, 1989.

[2] Diversity Training University International, headquartered out of San Francisco, California, and maintains satellite offices throughout the United States, Sweden and India. Its constituent clients include Allstate Insurance Company, the CIA, the Central European Bank, the United States Coast Guard, the Internal Revenue Service, the Canadian Border Patrol, Motorola, and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

[3] The Melting Pot is a play that depicts the life of a Russian Jewish immigrant family that survived the Pogrom and travels to America in hopes of looking forward to a society free of ethnic divisions and hatred. When the play opened in Washington, D.C. in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt in attendance that night was said to have shouted “That’s a great play Mr. Zangwill.”

By: Erica Hayworth

As a teacher and a coach, embracing and accepting all cultures has become a significant part of the job. You will come across students and players from all different cultures and backgrounds. Building a sense of community is essential when trying to establish a safe and trusting environment. A sense of community cannot happen without cultural competency.

Specifically in sports, “some argue that sport is a prime vehicle by which to teach about diversity and bridge the differences between cultures.” I feel strongly that sport can provide essential life tools a person needs. A person can learn a great deal through sport. To say that sport is the “prime vehicle” may be a bit of a stretch. Without a doubt, sports do provide people a chance to come together with someone from a different culture or background. However, this does not mean all cultural ways or styles are articulated on the playing field.

When people come together to play a sport, they are not coming together to learn about different cultures. They are coming together to learn how to play a game, grow as athletes, and as team members. Sports are not the place to sit and teach about different cultures. As a teacher, I can say that is something that is more fit for a classroom. A classroom environment is a close-knit family and different cultures and backgrounds can be talked about through different subject matter. When you are playing a sport you are there to learn/work on the fundamentals of the game. With that being said, it is incredibly important to build relationships with teammates. This is why team-bonding activities should take place at any age.

A sport teaches athletes and coaches how to work with different individuals. No one person is alike, so the more exposure a person gets to a different group of people the more they will understand how different people operate. I think sports are a great way for young athletes to get exposed to people that are different both in a cultural and personality manner. As you get older and the more teammates or athletes you come across, you can see certain teammates/athletes learn in a different way and may respond to situations differently.

As a 22 year old, I had the privilege of traveling to Aruba to play softball with USA’s international team. This experience was life changing. As a grown adult I was exposed to many different types of people from around the world. We all had one thing in common and that was to play softball and logistically how to play the game. I also saw how different countries interacted with teammates and opposing teams, fans, coaches, and game officials. As adults, we were all eager to go and socialize after our games to learn about different cultures and meet new people. I made many life long friendships through that experience and I also learned a great deal how other cultures operate.

My point being, I think sports provide exposure to different cultural backgrounds. I think, as you get older you learn to appreciate the differences and become curious to find out more. However, the point of sport is not to bridge the differences between cultures. The point of sport is to play a game with the hope that skills and lessons taught with each practice and game can somehow translate into someone’s every day life.


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