I didn't know what I didn't know. 8 things you taught me this year.


I've spent my career working in the field of conflict management: facilitating training, coaching leadership and mediating agreements. Last January I had an epiphany. I realized although I thought I knew a lot… I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Since then I've interviewed a member of my local sports community each week to hear how they team-build to manage conflict. I've shared the interviews on YouTube so we can all learn from their insights. Here are 8 key ideas that you’ve taught me along with links to the interviews and blogs that informed them.

1.    Sports are political. At all levels and in all aspects. Team selection, scholarship decisions, association boards, coaching appointments, Provincial Sport Organizations, funding decisions, disparity between female and male athletes, the segregation of male and female athletes etc. etc.… If you want to create change or have influence – get involved

2.    Girls need to feel good to play well. Girls and boys experience conflict differently. Time and again this year, female athletes shared their belief that in order to play well, team conflict needs to be resolved. Whereas many of the boys interviewed told me they “leave it on the field.” Although this is likely both an over-simplification and a broad generalization, it’s imperative for coaches to understand this distinction. As female coaches are largely underrepresented in many sports, male coaches are left with the challenge of managing conflict in a way that’s meaningful to their female athletes.

3. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone has a different conflict style and strong teams have diversity. Without exception, all of the athletes interviewed told me the most influential leader on their teams are the athlete leaders. So I held athlete leadership workshops. And guess what? The participants all had such different leadership styles! There were athletes who were directive, collaborative, avoiders and everything in between. Two messages here: never discount the power and influence that any one team member has based on their personality and diversity is everything!

4.    Beware the Lawnmower and Helicopter Parent labels. Don’t get me wrong here. Both of these terms describe hugely problematic behaviours that contribute to conflict in youth sports, however I believe that behind all behaviours are motives. If the motive of a parent is to provide a positive experience for their child as well as physical and emotional safety then that should be established though the development of a positive relationship with the child’s coach and association. Once a parent has trust in both, they can support their child to develop their own age appropriate relationships with their coaches. Extreme and abusive behaviours by parents or coaches have no place in sports and both parents and coaches need to be diligent in ensuring this standard. 

5.    Pay attention to EVERYONE on the team. Many athletes and coaches have a special need be it an invisible disability, mental illness or a history of trauma. All of these issues can impact their ability to provide and follow instruction, understand plays or influence how they react to pressure. Take some time to learn about your coaches, athletes and teammates outside of the sport in order to support their success.

6.    Coaching is an identity not a job. I’ve always had a healthy respect for coaches and have believed in their ability to have a profound impact on the lives of young people. This year I’ve come to realize coaches don’t do it for the money or the glory of the wins. They do it because it’s part of their essence. They believe it’s their calling. Regardless of whether or not you agree with a coach’s style - they’re likely altruistic in their motives. They are community leaders and should be respected as such.

7.    Email and text is the biggest barrier to successful conflict management today. I’ve seen this over and over and over (and over) again. No conflict has ever been managed effectively by e-mail. Ever. If there’s conflict - it’s time for face to face communication. See my e-mail communication guide for more on this.

8.    Never forget the Thai Soccer Team. They inspired the world to collaborate for a common purpose and the rescue team taught us the power of team-work and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. Here at home we get caught up in what seem like insurmountable differences such as perceived bias of coaches, bullying type behaviours between athletes and association boards making controversial decisions. My challenge to you is the next time you’re facing issues such as these regardless of who you are: coach, athlete, parent - remember the Thai kids and their rescuers. If people from different religions, languages, cultures and expertise can come together in the face of what was likely insurmountable conflict in opinion about how the operation should take place - so can you.

Well that’s it for me. Thank you for your support this year. I’d love to hear your ah ha’s and thoughts as always.

Nadia KybaComment