By: Teri McKeever - Former College and Olympic Swim Coach
Originally Published in: Winning Ways of Women Coaches
Provided by: Human Kinetics
If you aren't having conflicts on a team, then the athletes and those coaching them are not being authentic. If there is no butting of heads or questioning in a respectful way among athletes and coaches, then I don't think you're challenging each other enough. That might be uncomfortable for some and create some tension at times, but that's OK when the individuals involved are striving to improve themselves and the team and not motivated by a personal agenda.
We talk a lot about what the differences are between being a good teammate and being a good friend. You can have a poor teammate who can be a good friend, or you can have a really good teammate, but she's not really a friend. Athletes need to be able to distinguish and deal with those different scenarios and, when there are conflicts, learn how to resolve them.
We use role-playing as a way to address such interpersonal issues before they come up. For example, about a week before we go to our first big invitational meet in the fall, I'll talk with the athletes about what their responsibilities are in the team area of the facility. We'll talk about if you have a bad swim, what is appropriate behavior and what is not appropriate behavior. Then, if I see one of my athletes pouting about her performance, I can remind them of that talk and how such behavior is not allowed here. Or I'll have the captain talk to her about getting over it and supporting her teammates, or have her pity party elsewhere, in private.
So we try to anticipate a wide variety of challenging situations and discuss what our expectations are in responding to them. The athletes need to know and agree to what behavior is and is not acceptable. We will also do somewhat the same thing during recruiting, where we might come up with situations similar to the ones we have seen the recruit struggle with while evaluating her. It is telling whether the recruit realized her responses could have been better or believes she acted perfectly fine in those scenarios.
In the last couple of years, I have arranged more role-playing in small groups, and then observed the interaction among the groups afterward, and perhaps talked with them about the important takeaways from the situation. We also have small groups that discuss social issues and try to determine ways to have a positive impact.