Recently, I gave an interview talking about some of the challenges I’ve experienced as a coach and it didn’t take me long to recall a situation that I still regret even though it happened years ago. I certainly don’t want any readers to think that I haven’t had any difficult situations or players, so I figured I’d tell you the story of one of my failures.
The hot & cold player
Back when I coached at the high school level, I had a great team. Three of the players went on to play in college, two of them at top twenty five Division I schools. They were all good, but one of them was clearly the best.
The player, let’s call her Susie, had a magnetic personality. People were drawn to her. When she walked into the gym, all of the other players would make their way to her just to be in her presence. Susie would always have a funny story or some sort of wild and weird thing that happened to her during the day…she was a great storyteller.
Besides that, as I said before, Susie was our best player. Our best server, passer, setter, hitter, blocker…everything. She went on to be a four-year starter for a big-time program, so you can see, she was a major baller!
When she was flying high, there was no player I’d rather be around. But when she’d had a bad day or was just generally grumpy…Susie was a whole different person. Quiet, sullen, and withdrawn, she would go at half-speed (which was still better than most of the team!) through drills or not give full effort in games.
So what’s a coach to do?
4 tips for managing interpersonal conflict on teams (based on suggestions from this article)
Stick to the facts. Believe me, I tried it all with Susie. I tried to let her know that her teammates where in a weird position of trying to guess if she was in a good or bad mood and then they would respond accordingly. I thought if she realized how her behavior affected the rest of the team, she would try to change.
Use “I” statements. I told Susie about one of my teammates from college, who pulled one of the more selfish stunts I’ve seen to date. Again, trying to show Susie how one person’s actions can be harmful to the entire group. While she totally sympathized with the collegiate version of myself because she couldn’t believe one of my teammates would even try that, she didn’t see her behavior as selfish.
Seek to understand the other person’s position. I tried to let Susie know that I understood that she was in a tough position. There was a lot of pressure on her. Everyone relied on her to be the best player (all the time), to entertain the team (all the time), and to be a great leader (all the time)…she never got a break. I told her that I got it…I understood that she carried a heavier load than anyone else on the team. But I also told her that was the burden the best player carries, people will always look up to that person.
Frame the conflict as a mutual challenge. As I’m sure you can imagine, both Susie and I were sick of talking about this by the halfway point of the season. I was trying to figure out why she wouldn’t change her behavior and she just wanted me to leave her alone. I remember telling her we had a problem because her team needed her to be someone she wasn’t ready to be yet. She nodded. I suggested she take a break from volleyball. She looked shocked. I suggested that the break start immediately. She started crying. Susie took a week off, missed practices and games, came back after that week…and nothing changed.
I’m sure you want to know what happened with Susie. Our season ended in the conference championship game, with Susie in tears. They weren’t happy tears, but tears of disappointment as she realized that our team wouldn’t win the big game. You all probably remember my aversion to tears from my players…especially before the game is over. Yep, you read that right, she was crying on the court!
I always try to remind myself that we never know at what point of the teamy progression we find our players. I liken it to planting a garden. We may be watering a full grown flower or we may be the first person to plant the seeds of teaminess within this person. So I try not to be too hard on myself, but Susie’s seeds didn’t sprout while she was with me.
Sometimes we coaches can do all the right things and still not have the opportunity to smell the aroma of that team-oriented flower.
All we can do is hope that it happens at some point. A lot of times, I read articles about conflict management and think of this young lady. I’ve only dealt with a personality like hers one other time in my coaching career. It’s rare, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.
Have you experienced anything like this? How did you handle it?
If you enjoyed this post, check out 5 Ways To Make Conflict Work For You And Your Team, A Step By Step Guide To Handling Conflict On Teams, and Teaching Our Players How To Handle Conflict.