Addressing Internal Team Conflict

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Basketball coach in suit with his team


For the average sports fan, it may seem like every sports team is the picture of perfect harmony. Behind many successful teams are athletic directors, managers, and coaches working daily  all towards the same goal. One of the biggest challenges of being a coach is unifying a group of unique individuals together as a team. When problems arise, it is the coach’s job to address these problems before they get out of control. Below are some tips that every coach and athletic director will find useful when addressing internal team conflict.

Address the Team, Not the Individual

The first step is to address the team as a whole without singling anyone out. When speaking to the team, clarify the expectations that come with being a member of the team. Remind them that they are on a mission for success together, not against each other. Review the team rules together and remind each player of their responsibilities. This process will help instill that everyone must participate in a manner that benefits the team. In effect, players will be reminded that any issues that arise between teammates should be addressed in a professional and respectful manner.

As a coach, it is your role to make sure that the players are clear on the importance of civility on and off the field. While athletes should have fun, both players and coaches should conduct themselves in a professional manner.

Address the Conflict Specifically

If the conflict does not resolve after addressing the team as a whole, coaches should address the conflict head-on. Start by figuring out what type of internal team conflict is taking place. Helpful questions about conflicts include:

  • Is this conflict isolated to one person who is having problems outside of the team?
  • Does this person need time off to address a personal or family issue?
  • Could counseling be beneficial to this person?
  • Sometimes, the conflict is between two teammates specifically. What is the underlying issue between these two individuals?
  • Did something happen on the field or does is the originating from outside the game

Sometimes, one person isn’t getting along with the entire team in general. Questions in this situation include:

  • Why does this one person not fit in with the rest of the team?
  • What steps can be taken to address the issue to help the person fit in with the team?
  • Does the person need to be removed from the team?

Talking with each athlete individually, then together, is a good manner to address the questions above.

Resolving the Conflict Requires Both Coaches and Players

After facing the conflict head-on, use the following methods to resolve the problem:

  1. Start by observing the team in general. Watch to see how the athlete, or athletes, with the conflict act on the field of play. Are they professional during practices or games? Do they vent their frustration on the field and hurt the team’s performance?
  2. Take notes on the observed issues to refer to when discussing the conflict with the leaders of the team.
  3. The next step is for the coach to meet with the captain to discuss the internal conflict. Start by asking the captain for their assessment of the problem. Ask questions to see what steps the captain has taken to resolve the issue.
  4. Compare your notes to what the captain saw as the conflict developed. Build off of any similarities and address any differences as well.
  5. Come up with a plan of action with the captain for handling the conflict. Presenting a unified front between the coaches and players is key to keeping a team together as the internal conflict is resolved.

Put the Solution into Action

Ultimately, the solution to the conflict has several components.

  • Figure out who the players are with the internal conflict. Call that person into the office privately, with the captain and explain that several solutions have been tried.
  • After discussing your efforts, ask the player to explain their view of the conflict. Offer this player time off to address any personal issues. Explain to the player that they have a duty to the team and personal issues should be left at the door.
  • Make sure to tell the player that if their problems aren’t rectified, playing time could be reduced or they could be cut from the team.

When handling team internal conflict, it is important to remember that no one player should ever be larger than the team. Maintaining this mindset will help to not only resolve internal team conflicts but prevent conflicts from ever starting.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s online MAA program is designed to teach professionals how to manage the many changes in interscholastic sports. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education.

Ohio University’s online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring the university’s dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). For more information, contact an enrollment advisor at Ohio University.