In competitive athletic competitions, the scores, records and player statistics often mask the people behind those numbers. Team relations—or the ways athletes and coaches interact with each other—play a key role in success of the group and its individuals. Athletes and coaches alike believe that understanding how to address conflicts and differences that frequently arise in sports is integral in the emotional and competitive well-being of teams.
According to junior girls lacrosse player Janis Iourovitski, the majority of team conflicts arise from events that occur between players outside of the sport. “Most of the time the conflict has nothing to do with the team as a whole,” she said. “These conflicts impede a team’s ability to work as a whole, since players may not want to communicate with each other, making it difficult to work together.”
Iourovitski believes that the best way to resolve disagreements is by preventing individual issues from interfering with the team’s objective to win games. “The only way to overcome these conflicts are for the players to forget about their personal problems and work as a team,” she said. “The players must leave their issues behind for the time being and communicate, at least about the game at hand.”
Boys water polo coach Matt Johnson recognizes that positive attitudes are necessary to keep the team focused on their common goal. “Obviously I do not stand for anyone being rude or disrespectful; so if that is the case, I squash it right away and remind everyone that this is a positive environment where mistakes are alright because that is how we learn and get better,” he said. “Teams that practice and play in a negative environment are never successful.”
For athletes, sportsmanship plays an important role in keeping relationships within the team and with other teams robust. Senior varsity tennis player Kiran De Silva recalls an instance during a tennis meet against Saratoga High School in which the integrity of a match was violated. “There was one match when an opponent disrespected my teammate by purposefully making a bad call on match point,” he said. “The entire team went berserk and we had a bit of a shouting match.” It was only until the coach defused the situation that the team was able to calm down. At the end of the day, the conflict did not negatively affect the team’s camaraderie. “Afterwards we all had a good laugh over our reactions to the incident.”
De Silva believes that disagreements like these do little to change the strength of team relationships. “I’ve learned over the years that conflicts are actually a normality to sports—especially team sports,” he said. “Over time it becomes something that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, something that should be used as an endearing experience.”
To strengthen bonds among athletes, Johnson has taken the team out on travel trips and fundraisers. The Orange County for High School Championships as well as Sacramento and Santa Barbara tournaments this season served as opportunities for teammates to spend time with each other watching other games, going to team dinners and going to the beach. “I think the time the players spend in the vans driving there and back and the time they spend together during the weekend plays a very positive role in building their relationships with one another,” Johnson said.
Another way teams bond with each other to improve connections is through engaging practices. Even for single-person sports like tennis, playing beside different partners often enhances athlete-to-athlete relations. “We occasionally rotate [playing] partners in such a way that everyone ends up playing with each other,” De Silva said. “We learn to adapt to a wide array of play styles and levels of tolerance for certain teammates.”
For Iourovitski important lessons have helped her grow as a competitive athlete through her experiences dealing with conflicts. “I have learned the only way to overcome conflicts is to communicate and to understand the other person’s perspective,” she said. Iourovitski found that acknowledging that her teammates are there to help each other reach a common goal helped everyone move forward. “You may not agree with the other person but it is important to remember during the game you are still on the same team.”