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Problem-solving Effectiveness of Sports Mediation

Sports is a highly-competitive culture and that same commitment and drive it takes to get results can also be a strength so strong, too strong in fact, that it becomes a weakness in minimizing or resolving very costly conflicts, whether that be relationally, performance wise or financially.

Athletes, coaches, front office personnel and agents all have different responsibilities and objectives. They have perceptions, misconceptions, conflict styles and communication difficulties.

They also have differences that can get in the way of understanding yet don't realize that we often have commonalities that can be foundations for agreements and getting our needs met.

The more power we use to problem solve, the more challenging it becomes to earn cooperation, get interests met and preserve or repair vital relationships.

Follow the news and see disputes between:


Players and coaches

Coaches and management

Players and the front office

Players and the public.

Whether those are contractual or not in a financial context, they are heated arguments that carry negative publicity and affect the quality of working relationships and desired results.

A time-tested, results-proven solution is mediation and here's why – upset people can involve someone whom is not caught up in the very human hot emotions of the dispute.

Mediation helps people communicate in a civil manner, listen more effectively, be heard, gain greater understanding of each other as to why the other person or other parties feel as they do, why they want what they want, learn what they actually do have in common, and help them work with each other to brainstorm multiple attractive solutions.

All that significantly increases the likelihood of effective, efficient, cost savings agreements.

Why would you not want to try a process that works better, manages relationships better and helps you be more influential, persuasive and have greater say in the outcome?

Resistance is often lowered and receptiveness increases.

Look at any team or individual sport conflict in the news and ask “are they in control of the emotions of the dispute?”

Most often, the people are not. What you do recognize is posturing, escalating negative emotions, unmet needs and damaged relationships.

Some recent examples

Los Angeles Clippers' star center DeAndre Jordan, who has rare marketable skills for his position, was very close to leaving the team (verbally agreeing to a contract with the Dallas Mavericks) over a seemingly intractable conflict with superstar guard Chris Paul. The relationship was saved but as close to the midnight hour as possible, when it could have been solved over a year ago, before Jordan was going into his contract year.

Sacramento Kings coach George Karl and All Star center DeMarcus Cousins allegedly do not get along well at all. General Manager Vlade Divac is in the middle. Owner Vivek Ranadive' is also not happy with the conflict. The disputes have all been very widely reported.

All Star guard Rajon Rondo's dominant behavior led to departures in Boston and Dallas.

Now-resigned Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto left the organization because of a pained relationship between him, the manager and owner. They had the common goal of winning but were had a strong process conflict as well as identity conflict.

NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III and his former and current coach have had a strained relationship that has not benefited anyone involved.

An older-but-still-recent example

Retired NFL defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth accepted a massive contract to work for the Washington Redskins and he and the team had a long-lasting, acrimonious and very public relationship. It's not an overstatement to say the relationship was toxic to the parties and the team. Haynesworth of course, significantly under-performed. The frustrated, angry exchanges in the media likely only reflected a glimpse of the intensity of the conflict behind the scenes.

Outfielder Josh Hamilton signed a huge-money deal with the Angels and because of different reasons, became part of a very strained relationship with the owner. Ongoing trouble led to a trade and even then, more public conflict.


Most developing and ongoing disputes could be managed and resolved far more effectively and efficiently than they are now. The relational, financial and PR costs are excellent motivation if the smarter conflict “technology” isn't.


Michael Toebe

Michael is a conflict management specialist, serving businesses and individuals in strategically, effectively gaining deeper understanding of conflicts and disputes and working through them more protectively and wisely. MORE >

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