When athletes on your team are having disagreements, as a coach it’s natural to want to jump in and solve the conflict for them. But while you can help make athletes more ethical, you shouldn’t make decisions for them — you’d actually doing them a disservice by helping them avoid conflict.
Before you can teach how to resolve disagreements, it’s important to understand that conflict and bullying are different things. Conflict is a disagreement where both sides can express their views, while bullying is a negative behavior in which one person has power over another.
Here’s how you can facilitate disagreements amongst teammates to keep conflict from turning into bullying.
As your season begins, sit down with the team and create a conflict plan or policy: A set of rules and recommendations for how teammates can best deal with conflicts amongst themselves. This might include a journaling exercise, bringing conflicts to you as the coach before hashing them out with a teammate, or setting a weekly team meeting where your athletes can address problems they’re having.
“Set clear rules about behavior and expectations — if you set those expectations for teams early, it makes it clear how things like conflict or bullying will be handled when it does come up,” says Bailey Huston, a coordinator at PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.
One study suggests that the best way to deter bullying is to create strong team camaraderie. If your team has a strong culture of mutual respect and friendship, disagreements are more likely to be resolved in mature, healthy ways.
As a coach, whether it’s conflict or bullying, you have a big role to play when you see a disagreement —but you’re not going to be the one to solve it. “Talk separately with the students first — that allows you to assess the situation and get both points of view,” says Huston. “If the conflict is still ‘hot,’ bringing everyone together sometimes isn’t the most productive way to get to the root of what’s going on.”
“Start with a one-on-one conversation. You want to get to the core of what’s actually going on before you help them hold a conversation to resolve the situation.”