DEAR KELLY: I’m on a competitive soccer team that’s been together for four years. Most of us are all good friends and our parents are good friends, too. One of the girls on our team is so nice in front of all the parents but, when it’s just all the girls, she’s rude, says mean things, makes fun of everyone and puts down everyone else and then just says, “Just kidding.” On the field she always fakes injuries, but she’s never hurt.
None of us likes her. It’s starting to be a problem because no one wants to room with her when we all stay in hotels and people try to not tell her whose room we are in if it’s just the girls. The problem is that her dad is the assistant coach and her mom plans everything for the team. Her parents aren’t the problem. They are nice people and everyone likes them. We just can’t stand “Taylor” because she’s just not nice to people.
I tried to tell my mom there was a problem, and she told me not to start “drama within the team.” It’s not me, Kelly, it’s her. We are afraid to talk to the coach because her dad’s the assistant coach, and we’re afraid the coach will tell her dad what we say.
The girls on the team don’t know what to do around her anymore. People avoid her and no one wants to deal with her anymore at practice, at games or at travel tourneys. What should we do?
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DEAR TEAMMATE: Dealing with someone who doesn’t have a filter is hard. Or she seems to have a selective filter when she wants (around the parents) and then lets it all fly when it’s just girls. Saying mean things, then following it with, “Just kidding,” is cheap and allows people to say what they want without consequences. I have very little tolerance for people who throw around “just kidding” like it’s a catch-all for saying mean things. Your frustration seems valid and she could splinter the entire team if the issue isn’t addressed.
Your mom doesn’t want to be a part of upsetting the apple cart. She’s trying to avoid the conflict and not start any team arguments. I get it, but this issue isn’t just with you, it’s with the whole team. Perhaps if it’s more than just you speaking up, it will seem like a team issue and not just an issue with you.
Anyone can throw a jersey on and be a part of a team, but there is so much more to being on a team that makes you a good teammate. Being on a team is like being on a family. There is no room for negativity or meanness on a team. Teammates are supposed to be supportive, encouraging and uplifting. My guess is she’s unhappy playing soccer and she’s projecting her own misery on everyone through her words and actions. If her parents are making her play, perhaps they need to hear that she’s taking out her frustration on everyone and teammates no longer like being around her because of the hostility she is giving off.
One person can change the dynamics and chemistry of a team. The issues need to be addressed by all the teammates so the coaches can see everyone feels the same.
See how many girls are comfortable talking to the head coach about all of your concerns. Perhaps he needs to hear that around her teammates she’s not nice and says disparaging things about everyone. Ask if you can go to him as a team and make it more informational rather than a tattle-tell session. Let the coach decide the best course of action – perhaps he talks with her individually or you have a team meeting. He might want to talk with each of you individually so he feels he gets an honest opinion from everyone and no one feels pressured into talking. She might also have personal issues happening in her life that he knows about and might explain her behavior. Listen to what he says when you share your concerns and how you can handle this as a team. The goal is not to single Taylor out and make her feel bad or rejected by the team, but rather to find a resolution that helps the team be better together and work together better.
Most teams don’t get along all the time and have personality hurdles to overcome to create team unity. It’s not uncommon to have some discord among teammates considering the amount of time you spend together. Good communication is the best answer in dealing with team conflict. Hopefully all it takes is “Taylor” being made aware that people don’t appreciate her jokes or mean comments and she stops the behavior. When people try to fit in, sometimes they try too hard. By talking with the coach and sharing your concerns, he can handle the situation in a way that enlightens Taylor to how she is being perceived and supports in her being an important member of the team. Try reaching out to Taylor outside of soccer just to check in and see how she’s doing. Be a leader and perhaps she will respond positively to feeling included.
When you work together with teammates, you can do remarkable things. Being a part of a team teaches way more about life than it does about the game. You will come across difficult people like Taylor in life – learn from this situation how to communicate with grace, leadership and respect to the team. Without good communication you don’t have a team, you have a collection of individuals wearing the same shirt. Working together, overcoming obstacles and learning how to treat others is what makes a team a family.