Conflict in Youth Sports


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What follows isn’t a comprehensive list of things that cause conflict in sports, but it covers some common themes I see working with high school, club, and college athletes, parents and coaches.


The most common sources of jealousy are:

  • Playing time/playing status.
  • Younger player playing over an older player.

Away from the court, jealousies also have an influence as they bleed over into sport. This can come from conflict about relationships with others, popularity, and physical appearance.

Cliques contribute to conflict between players and negative team dynamics. Cliques arise from things like playing status, popularity in school, and relationships outside of sports. The tensions caused by cliques can be hard to spot on the surface level becuase athletes tend to keep these sorts of issues to themselves.

Personal Characteristics

Personal traits could also contribute to peer conflict in sport, as differences in personality can cause friction. Teammates with attitude can cause conflict in multiple directions. For those believing themselves to be better than their peers, being asked to take part in things deemed beneath them can create less effort. Some players enjoy the attention (even if it’s negative) that being the center of drama can provide.

As a sport and performance psychology coach, I worked with two Division 1 college athletes to settle a beef they held since elementary school. Like these players, many athletes have competed with and against each other from their first experiences in sports all the way through high school and college. There is plenty of time and experience to create and maintain jealousies, resentment, and bad feelings.

Significant Others’ Influence

Parents contribute to developing negative feelings of athletes toward one another when they offer negative criticism of other players, their parents, and the system. Parents can also create division through criticism of coaches and coaching decisions like who plays and for how long. One of the best things EVER about parents and their relationship with the coach and coaching is in what follows.

In The Double Goal Coach (p. 183), Jim Thompson gives some great advice. He says:

What if you know more about the game than your child’s coach? It’s always been interesting to me that the best coaches I know – professional and college coaches who have kids in youth sports – resist the temptation to give advice to their child’s coach. If these elite coaches who know so much about their game refrain from giving advice to their child’s coach, then who are we to do differently? But let’s say you really do have some wonderful tactical advice for your child’s coach. Write it down, then put it in a folder labeled “When I Become the Coach.”

I’m Dr. J., I work with athletes, parents, coaches and organizations at all levels of sports to develop them mental game using sport psychology. I do this face-to-face (or ZOOM), through this blog, and through my online training academy for athletes and parents.

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