How to weather conflict with your team

Kristin's team was a few weeks into the season. Things were going well so far and yet she sensed an undercurrent of tension after morning practice. She hadn't 'heard' anything negative...she just had a 'sense'.

Then she got a text from her team captain to confirm something was definitely up...thank GOD!

At least she had her guard up before Nell (one of her freshmen) walked into her office and promptly burst into tears.

All teams (and any group) cycle through the stages of group development:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing

During the forming stage, your athletes are looking for ways to belong and connect. As a coach, this is when you’ll want to build trust and set boundaries - so people feel safe.

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How to thwart big problems...through better communication

Do you have any "doomsday" athletes on your team...everything that comes out of their mouths is dramatic?

"It's not my fault...I would've done it if it weren't for her...nothing ever goes right for me."

Ugggghhh! The blamer mentality used to drive me freaking crazy as a coach. It was definitely a trigger. So...what did I do?

When one of my athletes did something that really pissed me off...instead of getting angry...I knew it was time to teach.

Do you have any "doomsday" athletes on your team...everything that comes out of their mouths is dramatic?

"It's not my fault...I would've done it if it weren't for her...nothing ever goes right for me."

When athletes struggle, many of them blame, complain, and criticize others....instead of accepting responsibility for their own outcomes and results. It's easier to play the victim and point a finger.

The thing is...this mentality doesn't just appear overnight. Your athletes have been using this kind of language for a long time. (They may even hear you use it too.)

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the one thing coaches can do to succeed at just about anything

I was talking to a coach this week who shared one of her accomplishments. (I have coaches begin our calls by telling me what went well, what they’re proud of, and things they’ve accomplished since the last time we spoke).

This coach shared, “My accomplishment was...I actually set an intention.” 

Alright! Cool!” I replied. “What did setting an intention look like for you? What did you do?”, I asked.

the reporter

The coach described what happened. “A reporter had called me up and left a voicemail. He was writing a feature story on me and wanted to set up an interview. I just got really nervous. I hate doing interviews. I never knew what they’re gonna ask, I never feel prepared, and most of the time I get misquoted or even worse - things just taken out of context.”

Okay,” I said...”then what?

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What most coaches won't tell you about loneliness

Tammy is a coach I've been working with over the past four years - starting the season after she was fired from her job as a head coach.

The circumstances were complex. There were major issues that her athletic director was dealing with - title IX compliance, pressure from the president to significantly reduce spending, legal battles within the department, NCAA compliance issues...things were a mess. The culmination of the entangled web of problems boiled down to her team being cut the following season. Thus, she was out of a job.

She wasn't sure what she would do at first. Leave coaching? She wondered 'who would ever hire me again...after having the stigma of being fired?' Sure, it wasn't her wasn't performance all. And still...she worried, 'how can I possibly explain my unique circumstances every time I call about a position or even put in an application?'

Tammy felt incredibly alone.

Coaches aren't bulletproof. You need meaningful connections and support you can count on - just like any other human!

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There's no such thing as over-communicating your vision

You have a clear picture of where your team can go. You know the potential is there this year. You believe in what's possible. You live and breathe your vision every day.

Does anyone else on your team see it too?

They have to SEE what you're SAYING!


  1. You're constantly frustrated. It seems like you're the only one working towards your team goals. It's as if everyone else is just going through the motions and doing their own thing. 
  2. Your team is easily thrown off by obstacles and challenges. The smallest thing happens and throws everyone off course. Some athletes over-react...other athletes completely withdraw. 
  3. You're working really hard...all the freaking literally feels as if you're pushing a big heavy rock up a really steep hill. You are the only one holding people accountable. You're always the 'bad guy.' Someone on the team screws up...and you're the only one to address it. 

If any or all of those three signs resonate...then chances are you need to spend more time communicating your vision to your team.

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What To Do When an Athlete Screws Up

The first time I kicked someone off my team, I yelled.

It wasn't the way I wanted to handle it and...I hadn't yet learned another way. Kicking her off the team was also partly my fault.

In my early days as a Head Coach, I resisted confronting my athletes to hold them accountable. I had a young woman on my team who clearly wasn't doing her part and on a totally different page than the rest of the team. 

The writing was on the wall during the first week of practice. Yet, I ignored little problems and minimized her mistakes. I basically did everything I could to avoid a confrontation.

I didn't give her feedback on where she was falling short - until I clearly had to do something as the head coach to salvage my team. They had to endure my lack of action. I would get irritable with other athletes - when it was her I was frustrated with. I kept telling myself she’d figure it out somehow… until it was too late. 

Since shifting careers, I’ve spent thousands of dollars on my own coaching, taken countless seminars and continuing education classes, and read hundreds of books and articles. I really wish I had learned these things when I was coaching!

I've compiled a simple strategy to be able to pass it along to you can spend less time spinning your wheels and more time doing what you love as a coach - connecting with your athletes. 

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