Coaching Association of Canada

6 Strategies for Preventing Conflict

There are two generally held myths about conflict. The first is that conflict is negative, and the second is that conflict is a contest. The result of conflict can certainly be negative; however conflict can also have positive results. Achieving a positive outcome depends entirely on the skills used to handle the conflict. If you handle it well, conflict can result in many positive outcomes.

Conflict that is poorly handled, however, can result in deteriorating relationships that negatively affect your team’s or athletes’ ability to train effectively and achieve important goals or your ability to function effectively as their coach.

With that being said, if you are organized and proactive, it’s possible to avoid conflict all together. Here are six strategies that are applicable in pre-season or pre-competition situations.

1. Share Information

Misinformation is the most common starting point of conflict. Not surprisingly, one of the best ways to prevent conflict is to ensure everyone has the right information as early as possible. This includes athletes, assistant coaches, support staff, parents, facility personnel, and anyone who plays a part in training and competition.

2. Share Expectations

The sooner athletes, assistant coaches, parents, and anyone connected with your athletes are aware of what is expected of them, the less likely it is that conflict will arise because of differences in expectations. Compliance with expectations is generally higher when those who must meet the expectations are involved in setting them. At a minimum, expectations should be explained and checked for clarity. Compliance also improves when expectations are realistic, unambiguous, and appropriate to the persons and the situation.

The most important expectations to be shared include your coaching philosophy, norms for athlete behaviour, and norms for parents.

3. Clarify Roles and Obtain Commitment to Them

Another common source of conflict is lack of clarity about roles. You should make sure your role and the roles of assistant coaches, support staff, managers, team captains, accompanying officials, etc., are discussed at the beginning of the season and revisited before any competition or training camp. You want others to understand their role and to be committed to carrying it out.

4. Create Stability and Predictability

Disruptions, last-minute decisions, and lack of organization all make it more likely that conflict will occur. Advance planning creates predictability and stability for athletes and enables them to focus on the task at hand. Disorganization can distract you and your athletes throughout the year and cause unnecessary tension.

5. Build Relationships

You are less vulnerable to conflict if you develop credibility and trust among your athletes, their families, support staff, and administrators from the start of the year. Stephen Covey writes about making deposits in “trust accounts” with other people:

  • Concentrate on building good relationships with the people who are important in your athletes’ lives and key to the functioning of your team. Get to know your athletes and their families, staff, and administrators as people. Spend time with them before, after, or between practices;
  • Practise give and take in these relationships;
  • Follow through on promises; and
  • Establish networks among officials, other coaches, league or association administrators, and organizers who are part of your sport.

6. Establish a Pleasant Environment

Control the environment in which you practise, compete, live, and meet to the greatest extent possible. For example, identify and eliminate unpleasant sights, sounds, and smells, as well as unnecessarily hot or cold temperatures. Negative sensory stimulation can affect people’s moods and give rise to conflict that might otherwise have been avoided.

The Managing Conflict module will allow you to identify common sources of conflict in sport and to learn important skills that will help you prevent and solve conflict resulting from misinformation, miscommunication or misunderstanding. To enrol in this multi-sport coaching module today, please click here and then click on your Province or Territory for more information.