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Team Dynamics with a Star Player

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, CIC

Most coaches would say that they treat all players the same, and that’s a sound approach. In terms of athletic ability, however, not all players are the same. Some are much more talented than others, and occasionally you will end up with a player on your team who could accurately be labeled a star. And while having a stand-out athlete on your squad can be a bonus, it also comes with unique challenges.

First, remember that this exceptional player must be held to the same standards and expectations as the other members of your team and needs to follow all of the team rules. He or she should work hard, be receptive to coaching, and relate well with the other players.

However, not all star players are positive or coachable, and some struggle to understand what it means to be a supportive teammate. What do you do with a player who has exceptional talent, but who is arrogant, selfish, or relates poorly with everyone else on the team? The following suggestions should help:

Teach proper behavior. If your star player’s behavior is causing problems for the team, pull him or her aside in a closed-door meeting. Using logic and reason, clearly explain why the player’s attitude, comments, or actions are not appropriate. Don’t assume he or she knows, and use this as a teachable moment to offer clear, specific ways to improve.

Address problems immediately. If the player continues to act in negative ways, address specific incidents immediately. Meet with the player again, and in a calm but firm voice, explain why his or her actions or comments were not acceptable.

Consider requiring an apology. If the nature and severity of the mistake warrant it, ask the player to apologize to the teammate that he or she mistreated. Obviously, you have to weigh the facts and to determine whether an apology is appropriate and needed, but this is a consideration.

Reinforce the positive. Your star player will hear lots of compliments on his or her athletic successes. Make sure that this player also hears praise when they acts in ways that support the team. Everyone needs to hear what they have done right, and elite athletes are no different.  

Praise other players’ successes. Make a concerted effort to congratulate all of your other players for their efforts—playing tough defense, making good passes, and all of the other things that are necessary for a team to succeed. While you may have a star player, a team still needs everyone’s contributions, and it is vital to recognize them. 

Praise others publicly. Mention and highlight the contributions of all team members when you talk to the media or post articles on your website. Everyone will be aware of a star player’s accomplishments during a game—they will be extremely obvious. It is up to you to make sure that the other players get recognition for the less noticeable things they did that also contributed to a successful effort.

Ultimately, having a star player on your team can be a huge benefit or a major headache. As the coach, you have a lot of power to influence how the situation unfolds. It is wise to spend some time understanding how your star player is affecting the dynamics of the team and working proactively to ensure that the team’s cohesion, goals, and well-being are always the ultimate priority.


David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach.  In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the Nastional Association for Sport and Physical Education.  He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association's Athletic Director of the Year.  Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country.

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