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How External Opinions and Biases Affect the Psyche of Asian Athletes

Updated: Feb 19

Dear Asian Youth,

Asian people are smart but not athletic. Unfortunately, no matter how well I perform in basketball, most of my teammates and my coach believe in the aforementioned stereotype. They view me as an Asian person who can only play mediocre basketball, while my Asian peers stereotype me as a “simple” athlete. I’m sure a lot of Asian athletes can relate. When we do play, we usually aren’t the main players. My teammates and coach question my abilities; when I play well, they think it’s a fluke rather than a reflection of my skills. Similarly, when one teammate makes mistakes, he stays on the court. When I make similar mistakes, I get sent straight to the bench.

First of all, why are Asian athletes stereotyped in this manner? There are many reasons and explanations but a large one is that Asian athletes don’t play a lot of sports. Because there is such a small population of Asians in the American sports world, humans tend to group them and implicitly rate them as inferior athletes and may perceive Asians as not good enough to make a team. In fact, Asians make up 5.6% of the American population, and being one of the smallest ethnic groups means that there are fewer Asian athletes who compete. Not only are there few Asian athletes, the ones that do play often don’t play a team sport. For those Asian athletes that do play, people don’t associate them with being skilled. In addition, many Asians have pressure from parents to prepare for the SAT at an early age, get good grades, and ultimately get into a prestigious college. This cultural set of norms can cause stress and many of these parents want their son/daughter to pursue a job with a high salary, rather than an athletic job, which discourages Asian youth to pursue sports. On the other hand, American culture can be described in the opposite manner: sports are fundamental to Americans and, at times, even encouraged. Some boarding schools in America make sports an obligatory component of students' lives and 75% of American families with children have at least one child who participates in organized sports.

The effects of this stereotype can be negative. To put this unconscious bias into perspective, consider this example. When most people see a white or black student, they may assume that person isn’t as smart as an Asian person, only because of their skin color. This is analogous to how non-Asians see Asian athletes; when they see an Asian athlete, they assume they aren’t naturally talented physically just because of our ethnicity. This can be very saddening and have a depressing effect on our mood. Confidence can plummet and in turn, affect performance both on an individual level or team level. It’s also easy for coaches to feel the same way about Asian athletes. Because of these experiences, Asians may start to develop learned helplessness, a psychological term that describes that no matter what you do, the outcome is not what you want it to be. In essence, this racial stereotype is a roadblock that never collapses and it feels like there is a limited way to push through. You start to feel hopeless, and therefore you don’t have the power to bounce back and try again after a rejection rather than being resilient and maintaining confidence. Asians may feel pushed out of these certain sport groups because they feel they are labeled and grouped as the “bad Asian athlete.” They are discouraged from playing certain sports that are dominated by a different race which may explain why certain sports like cricket, swimming, tennis are made up of Asians while basketball and many other team spots is made up predominantly of black and white players.

With this in mind, it forces Asian athletes to outperform and outshine their counterparts in order to prove a statement that they are competitive enough to be on the floor. One may argue that it is good that Asian athletes are pushed to their fullest capabilities. However, it can work to their disadvantage when the stakes are too