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Conflict Coaching: Creating Directions for Kobe Bryant and the International Gymnastic Federation

‘First I want to apologize . . . Although I truly believe that this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.‘
Kobe Bryant-

‘As a result, the true winner of the all-around competition is Yang Tae Young.’ Paul Hamm’s return of the gold medal to the Korean ‘would be recognized as the ultimate demonstration of fair play by the whole world.’
Bruno Grandi, president of the International Gymnastics Federation.

Conflict that was produced by these individuals was costly. The conflict that occurred reflected poorly on Kobe Bryant as well as the IGF, to the point that at basketball games Kobe was booed and at the Olympics the IGF judging panel was shouted down by the crowd halting competition. Many people tend to create conflict, rather than consider preventative measures and other ways to shift their culture to be conflict competent. However, there is a new emergence of Conflict Coaching which is emerging as a viable and productive mechanism in an effort to deal with and prevent conflict.

Conflict Coaching

Conflict coaching unites the fields of coaching and dispute resolution. Its premise is that the toxic effects of conflict can be removed and opportunities can be created for relationships and work environment to grow from differences that do arise.

Conflict coaching supports the main philosophy of the International Coach Federation which honors the client as the expert that directs his or her own actions. The coach’s responsibility is to discover what the client wants to achieve, encourage client self-discovery, elicit client generated solutions and strategies and hold the client responsible and accountable. Conflict Coaching is a process in which a coach supports and assists individuals on a one-on-one basis to resolve disputes, prevent unnecessary disputes, improve conflict management skills, shift destructive reactions and enhance conflict communications. Conflict Coaching can be applied at anytime: dispute specific, pre or post mediation stages.

In the dispute specific instance, the participants focus on a particular dispute that is adversely affecting their job and working relationships. Coaching in these cases, guides the person to conduct a structured analysis of the dispute, to gain insights about their conflict conduct and to engage in a problem-solving dialogue with the ‘other person’. The intent of conflict coaching is to help clients transform the way they ‘do’ conflict. Conflict coaching is not counseling/therapy or mentoring. Coaching sessions average one hour per session for no more than 4 sessions.

The Coaching Ability for Kobe

Has Kobe Bryant or the IGF hired a coach to teach them conflict skills? In analyzing Kobe’s actions for the last year, it appears that he has been guided through a structured analysis of the dispute, whether court imposed or voluntary. His apology statement seems to reveal that he engaged in self-discovery and insight about the conflict when he states that “After months of reviewing discovery and listening to her own testimony in person, I now understand how she sincerely feels that she did not consent to this encounter.” It is Kobe’s ability to understand the other person’s feelings that will hopefully transform the way that Kobe interacts with others, when and before conflict arises in his personal life and on the court.

As Bill Plaschke stated in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times: ‘If Bryant so chooses, he can use this second chance to make a new first impression in a town that wants to believe. He can show how being so scared has taught him compassion, how being so unconditionally cheered has taught him unselfishness, and how feeling so alone has taught him about teamwork.’ Hopefully, Kobe’s self-awareness was guided by a Conflict Coach and he will take steps to prevent conflict in the future. Even though the Lakers may not have had a Workplace Dispute Resolution System in place, maybe they had the foresight to offer conflict coaching to Kobe or encourage informal peer conflict coaching via older and wiser fellow team mates such as Karl Malone….

The Coaching Inability for the FIG

As for the FIG, they are a perfect example as to how to create conflict by refusing to take responsibility and be held accountable for their own actions. As the ultimate decision maker in this situation, they failed to engage in self-discovery before communicating that the gold was wrongly awarded to Paul Hamm. They failed to take responsibility by abiding by their own rules regarding the length of time a team has to protest an error. Not only did they fail to take responsibility and be held accountable for their actions, they attempted to shift the responsibility by pressuring a young athlete, Paul Hamm, and caused further conflict between the Americans and Koreans when Paul Hamm did not surrender his gold medal.

It was FIG’s failure to undertake self-discovery and assume responsibility that created doubt and conflicts with the judging. Canadian officials protested the judging of the men’s vault final and the Russian officials drafted a sweeping letter of complaint over the marks in the women’s all around and men’s high bar final. The dispute in the men’s high-bar final halted the competition for more than eight minutes. The FIG claims that changes in the gymnastics judging were already in the works before this conflict. However a new mechanism will not resolve conflict, unless the FIG is coached on how to manage conflict.


The world of sports offers us valuable lessons into the world of conflicts. But conflicts are not isolated to sports. More conflicts occur in the work place where we are brought together with people not of our own choosing. As a result conflict coaching is emerging as a viable and proactive mechanism in the workplace as a means to resolve disputes.


Elizabeth Moreno

Elizabeth A. Moreno is a  mediator and arbitrator in the Los Angeles area and will travel to resolve disputes within the Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, western San Bernardino and western Riverside Counties.  Ms. Moreno has been a mediator since 2000 and concentrates in the areas of labor, employment, real estate… MORE >

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