Got drama?

written by Erica Quam

One of the things coaches deal with on their teams is drama. Your athletes can be in great shape, tuned up, and ready to go. Yet their performance may be impacted by "stuff" that comes up through relationships, interactions, and their their social lives. Coaches need to deal with this - in some way.

What we resist, persists

You can't just proclaim 'No Drama' and expect it will eliminate conflict from your team. In fact, I'd venture to guess that when the stress is high (aka. when the game is on the line) that's when things are most likely to blow up.

There are plenty of coaches who may not agree with me on this - and just stick to the X's and O's. 

I believe as a coach, you are a teacher. Part of your role is teaching your athletes how to handle themselves and their relationships. Invest the time to give your athletes tools to manage themselves and their relationships and save a lot of time, energy...and drama in the end. 

The drama triangle

A simple framework to utilize is the Drama Triangle (Karpman). Conflict needs players. Players need roles. There are three roles:

The persecutor (bully), the victim (martyr), and the rescuer (hero). People play out their role. They may move from one role to another as conflict evolves. The real problem is repetition and getting stuck in this cycle. It tends to spiral downward until someone breaks free, stops playing and shifts the outcome.

Persecutors take advantage of weakness in others. 

Victims feel they need to be saved.

Rescuers just want to help. 

Identify the signs

The Persecutor is authoritative, rigid and controlling. Their mode is to blame, criticize, and get angry. The persecutor insists, "It's all your fault."

The Victim feels victimized, helpless, hopeless, powerless, and ashamed. The victim stays stuck - unable to make decisions, solve problems, and enjoy life. The victim's stance is "Poor me!"

The Rescuer feels guilty when they don't step in and help. Their 'help' keeps the victim dependent - giving them permission to fail. The rescuer also stays stuck - focusing their energy on someone else's problems. The rescuer's line is "Let me help you."

Let go of people who dull your shine, poison your spirit, and bring you drama. Cancel your subscription to their issues.
— Dr. Steve Maraboli


Get out of the loop

Awareness is essential. Once you recognize you are involved in a conflict, take a step back and look at what role you may be playing. (TED*: The Empowerment Dynamic)

  • Step 1: Awareness of the conflict
  • Step 2: Understand your role
  • Step 3: Move to the middle to step out of the conflict

PERSECUTOR to CHALLENGER: Challenge instead of bully. Give up the force you use to get others to do what you want. Take on new behaviors. Ask for what you want. Say no to what you don't want. Give constructive feedback. Initiate negotiations. Take positive action.

VICTIM to CREATOR: Be vulnerable...not a victim. Victims look to someone else to make decisions and solve problems. Instead of being needy, accept your situation and take responsibility. Decide what you want and how to get it. Then take one small step towards making it happen.

RESCUER to COACH: Be caring...with boundaries. Rescuers help people out of fear, obligation, and guilt. Be a supportive and empathetic listener. Provide reflection and coaching. Empower the other person to take care of themselves, solve their own problems and deal with feelings as they choose.

Coach your athletes out of the drama triangle

Instead of stepping into the drama, take a step back to teach and empower your athletes.

People often lack words to deal with conflict. They slip into a role - sometimes out of habit - that is most comfortable and justifies feelings and behaviors.

  • Which role are you playing?
  • What do you really want? 
  • What specific action will move you forward?

Let's take a look at an example.

You have two athletes on your team who are roommates - Gina and Jessica. They are great friends - until Gina starts dating. Then the relationship changes. Gina now spends more time with her boyfriend and much less time with Jessica. Gina also begins to disengage from the team. Jessica goes to April - one the team captains - and complains about Gina roommate not being a team player anymore. April confronts Gina and says she's not only hurting Jessica, but she's impacting the chemistry of the team. Gina gets mad and says it's only because Jessica is jealous of her having a boyfriend and no one would ever want to date her anyway. 

What are the roles? 

Gina is the persecutor. Jessica is the victim. April is the rescuer.

This drama will most likely continue to escalate and begin to trickle into the rest of the team. People rally supporters - to feel justified in their actions and feelings. The team is polarized - because people choose sides. Gina can easily move into the role of the victim if she complains to teammates that Jessica went to April instead of talking to her directly.

How can you coach them out of this drama?

Start with April - our rescuer:

Instead of allowing her to complain about Gina and then going to stick up for April to encourage Jessica to have an honest conversation with Gina. This helps move April from the role of a rescuer to that of a coach.

April can help give Jessica the words to have a conversation where she keeps her observations separate from her feelings and thoughts (D.I.E. is a communication tool.)

Jessica to Gina:

  • When you started dating your boyfriend you began to spend less time with me. (Description - facts)
  • I missed spending time with you and felt sad and lonely. (Interpretation - feelings)
  • I thought you didn't care about me or the team anymore. (Evaluation - thoughts)

That's just one scenario - addressing just one of the three roles. There are so many ways that this situation could play itself out with. If you can help one person move out of the drama triangle, then you've got people communicating in a more direct and healthy way.

My hope is that this framework makes you stop and think. Perhaps you can use it as a tool to help you identify the specific roles people are playing when drama comes up on your team.

I know dealing with conflict is more simple and easy in theory and can be much more complicated and challenging in practice. Ask questions and share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.