I had an interesting two week span full of coaching decisions that I find to be noteworthy. Two weeks which had two separate occasions where I had to consult with some young athletes and their parents about behaviors and attitudes while training. In retrospect, I handled these two situations very differently and the impact of my decisions in the first shaped the way I treated the second.
It started with a small group of middle school girls that I train once a week and had trained for the 4 months prior. At some point recently, there had been a decreasing level of focus and I began to feel frustrated at the girls for wasting time. The word feel is emphasized for a reason. I contacted their parents after a few weeks of decreasing focus and asked to meet with them, mentioning the concerns I had about the waste of time. In the conversation with the girls and their parents I told them of the lack of focus, of my concerns, and unfortunately told them how I felt about the situation. The reason I place emphasis on the feelings, is due to letting my frustration override my own personal responsibility in the scenario.
I got a phone call from one of the parents the next day who let me have their two cents about the matter. They called me out on a lot of things that I did, or did not do, in those weeks leading up to the conversation with them. In looking back, however, I realized how they had been right. There were key things that I could have or should have done which would have prevented the situation from occurring. I got frustrated at the girls for being unfocused, yet I had not provided the right environment for focus. I didn’t have them write down goals, only asked them what they were. With no goals, I didn’t set clear expectations, and we never revisited either of those crucial components.
The mistake I made when addressing the lack of focus was one of feeling. I focused on and expressed my feelings instead of looking at the objective facts. I felt as if the athletes were at fault, when we were honestly both at fault. Realizing this lead to my own admission that I also was in the wrong.
But what about the second situation, you may ask?
The same day I resolved the first situation, another one started. This time it was in my assistant coach’s group of young kids and appeared to be a bullying situation. Two young athletes were involved, with one leaving in tears because of the other child. I got frustrated that day, and was ready to dismiss the “antagonist” from training at our facility. Then I remembered I needed to look at the facts.
In talking to my assistant coach, I got his perspective of the situation and what happened. Another adult was in the vicinity, so I got their perspective as well. Neither one of them believed it to be a one-sided issue, and it looked to be more like a fight than an athlete being bullied. I brought the “antagonist” in to talk with them and their parents and got their perspective as well (which was refreshing to hear a child admit their own faults and own their part of the problem). Then I sat down and had a conversation with the “protagonist” (the child who left in tears) to hear their side of the story, of which they admitted no fault and viewed the situation as bullying instead of a fight. Their story, however, was the only one that differed from the other three.
In looking at the situation, and piecing together the information gathered from four perspectives, I realized that dismissal of one athlete would have been unjust. Had I not gathered the facts and the stories of everyone involved I would have kicked out a kid over the other merely based on the emotional pull of a crying child. And while both children involved will have some consequence, the way the situation was handled is what is important.
In coaching, teaching, or any relationship, resolving conflicts needs a moment to understand what the objective information is. Emotions can cloud the mind and influence decisions where clarity is crucial. Making emotional decisions leads to emotional outcomes, while taking a moment to consider all sides creates productive change. This lesson is also crucial to pass on to children, as any adult knows that conflicts arise in life and can have major impacts if not dealt with carefully. Not taking the time to look at the facts and have a clear understanding may lead to more downfall in the future.