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Standing Up to Teammates

By Dr. Tim Elmore

I have had conversations with many coaches across the country. When I ask what their top challenges are with today’s student athletes, one keeps popping up again and again: athletes’ inability to confront teammates on wrong or poor behavior.

I bet you’ve seen it too. Teammates lay plans to break a rule, but the captain is afraid to stand up to them and call them out for it. Cheating is occurring on a weekly basis, but players fear challenging their teammates on it. After all, they’re not perfect either.

Why is standing up to teammates hard for today’s student-athletes? Confronting a friend has never been an easy task. Nobody likes doing it. But it’s something leaders are called to do. It comes with the territory. Most coaches I know say very few of their student-athletes know how to do it.

Here’s what makes it hard:

Social Media: I believe social media has created a culture of fear. Students are overly concerned with what others think about them. Social media enables our world to constantly critique every word or thought we have.

A Culture of Tolerance Gone Too Far: Kids today grow up in a pluralistic world that’s diverse ethnically and ethically. No one feels equipped to challenge the morals or behaviors of a teammate because they fear it looks “judgmental.” It appears narrow or prudish. In society today almost anything goes, so the last thing a student wants to do is confront a peer.

Focus on Survival: When I ask student-athletes about the difficulty of standing up to teammates on wrong choices, they usually bring up their own anxieties. Many are in survival mode. They can’t deal with anyone else’s problems—they’ve got their own to deal with. In short, too many live in fear of other people. Peer pressure is at an all-time high. When they are trying to survive the week, they have no time or energy to confront someone else.

So what can coaches do? I believe coaches must be intentional about developing leaders. Not just team captains but all teammates. Everyone should be asked to think like a leader. This means they see the big picture, they are clear on the goals, they inspire teammates, and they know their next steps.

Here are 10 specific steps coaches can use to teach student-athletes how to embrace their leadership and confront teammates when needed:

1. Embody the conduct you’re demanding of others.

We cannot expect student athletes to confront teammates in a healthy way if they’ve never seen a good example from us. As Mother Teresa said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

2. Reflect and work through your own anger.

Wait long enough to become objective, but not so long that the issue feels irrelevant or tired.  Try to let the initial emotion subside, then after a day, confront the person.

3. Initiate the contact.

If something’s wrong, don’t wait for answers to surface somewhere else. Don’t blame the culprit or some other scapegoat and wait for them to make things right. Go do it yourself. The sooner, the better. Waiting only leads to a buildup of negative feelings.

4. Affirm them as you begin.

As you sit down to talk, thank them for meeting with you and affirm what you can. By affirming them, you show that you see good qualities in them, not just their negative actions.

5. Tell them you are struggling with a problem.

As you launch into the topic, be sure to own it. It’s your problem as much as theirs, since it involves team conduct. Don’t begin by pointing the finger at them.

6. Outline the problem and admit you may not understand all the details.

It’s important to clarify the specifics of the dilemma. Why is it a problem? Be sure to give them the benefit of the doubt. Lay out the issue with good faith that there’s a solution.

7. Share the principle that is at stake.

Generalizations lead to even more problems. Communicate what principle may have been violated. Compromise on opinions but don’t discard your principles.

8. Encourage them to respond.

At this point, listen well. Let them explain or clarify what happened. Take notes and work to understand their perspective. Listening earns you the right to be heard.

9. Establish forgiveness and repentance, if necessary.

Once the dilemma is clear to both sides, choose and relay the proper response. Create a game plan for change. Invite them to help redeem what has happened.

10. Affirm your care for them as you conclude.

Whenever possible always end with words of encouragement and friendship and belief. As a leader, this is your chance to build not burn bridges.

 

Dr. Tim Elmore is President of Growing Leaders, a global nonprofit leadership development and training organization. Through relevant and innovative resources we equip the next generation, and the parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors who shape their lives. Dr. Elmore is the author of over 30 books including Generation iY: Secrets to Connecting with Today's Teens & Young Adults in the Digital Age. He can be contacted through: growingleaders.com.