Coaching against unconscious bias


Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending an unconscious bias workshop by a wonderful woman named Femi Otitoju. Femi is the founder of Challenge Consultancy. They design and deliver training solutions in the private, public and voluntary sector.

Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences (ECU: 2013 Unconscious bias in higher education).

This is the way Femi explained it: “We have unintentional preferences formed by our socialization and experiences, including exposure to the media.” Femi adds, “That we unconsciously assign positive and negative values to the categories we use.”

Take a look at the two images below and then be honest with what your thoughts are about both images:


The associations we make with the image on the left are more than likely the complete opposite of the associations we make with the image on the right. And I am sure that many people had negative associations with the image of the person in the sagging pants and positive images of the person in the dress slacks. Those associations are a reflection of our unconscious bias.

Many of the decisions we make as coaches are influenced by our unconscious biases. The types of players we pick, the style of game we play and the way we treat some players are just some of the ways are biases guide our choices.

How many times have we, as coaches, held open tryouts and automatically started classifying players on their appearances. The kid wearing the turban goes into that box, the kid with the doo-rag on his head goes into that box, the overweight kid goes into another box and the skinny kid goes over there. And all of this happens before we have even seen them play.

As coaches we have to be very wary of the roll our unconscious biases play in the decisions we make and the impact those decisions have on athletes. I am guilty of it and have to check my biases all the time.

Femi’s presentation wasn’t to deny our unconscious biases because they aren’t all bad. Her message was to be aware of them so that your biases don’t let you make decisions that are based on assumptions and stereotypes.

I challenge all athletic directors, coaches and program organizers to put their staffs through unconscious bias training. I have done it and it has opened my eyes to my strengths and weaknesses as a coach when it comes to decision-making.

At the very least have them try Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this blog. Email me at

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