How to Handle Disputes with Teammates and Coaches

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Conflicts with teammates and coaches happens to almost all athletes. It’s often difficult to handle criticism, especially in common disputes about a specific play. It’s even more common, that athletes struggle with resolving disputes, and for some, it depends on who they may not see eye to eye with. Is it a person you respect and value their opinion? Is it a teammate or coach? For some, location matters, and even more common, timing matters. Disagreements during a game are often easier to resolve than lingering tension in practice, and the degree of escalation can sometimes weigh heavily on an athlete.

Athletes spend a large portion of time with their coaches and teammates. Conflicts with a teammate are tough on both you and your team. Most conflicts occur because of poor communication or when someone doesn’t get what he or she wants. Unfortunately, conflicts can involve several players, groups of players and even parents. Here are simple, but not easy, steps to help resolve difficulties with a teammate or coach.

If You Can, Stay Calm
While remaining calm during an argument may seem challenging, it’s best not to lose your head over a disagreement. Take 10 seconds, and place your hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Close mouth and inhale through your nose with your belly rising much more than your chest for 2 seconds. Exhale with pursed lips (like you are blowing out through a straw) for up to 8 seconds. You can repeat 3x if you’d like. Now choose your words wisely before you speak. Taking a second to breathe and think may stop the dispute from escalating further.

Talk It Out
After the game or practice, approach your teammate or call a meeting with your coach (to be more formal) and calmly explain to them what you were thinking in that moment. Then stop and LISTEN to what they have to say in response. Conflict can spread like wildfire amongst teams. Rather than talk to others on your team, go directly to the person you feel wronged by and responsibly discuss what happened and what you both can do better the next time an issue may arise.

….If these options are not accessible to you:

Write It Out
On a piece of paper, write out everything that happened between you and your teammate(s) or coach. Be specific about what took place—leave nothing out. Write what your teammate or coach said about you, how he or she embarrassed you or if a group ganged up on you.

Honor Your Emotions
Next to each occurrence, write out how it made you feel (e.g., hurt, angry, small, stupid, isolated, resentful, jealous or lonely, and why they made you feel that way.). Recognize the different emotions you felt and are feeling, and explore why.

Take Responsibility
Don’t let yourself fall victim, even if a situation was out of our control or someone actually wronged you, you played a role in the conflict, no matter what the circumstances. It’s important to take ownership of your own behavior and write out what you did in each situation.

These three steps may be enough to at least get your thoughts out on paper, so you can see them, acknowledge them and move on.

…if you’re still feeling unsettled:
Say “Thank You”
Even if you are not the antagonist of the argument, say thank you to the person(s) on your team who you’ve disputed with. Share with them what you’ve learned, and how you can both do better in the future. You can even take the time and a few dollars to buy a card. Write how much you value your relationship with your teammate or coach, your common goals and what you want to see happen. This process is intended to bring out what is really important in moving forward and resolving the issue.

Even if you don’t end up sending the card, it can serve as a valuable exercise for letting go.

Conflicts with teammates and coaches can be tough, but they don’t have to persist. Try these tips and see how they can grow your relationship with your team the next time you’re in a dispute.