8 Things I Believe About Coaching Difficult Personalities


To paraphrase Forrest Gump, coaching is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get!  You may get a fabulous, hard-working, goal-oriented team…or you may get an apathetic, lazy team.  You may get supportive, non-intrusive parents…or you may dread walking across the gym because you know “that parent” wants to talk to you.

A coach’s job is to manage a group of people toward a common goal…even those folks with personalities that rub you or their teammates (or both!) the wrong way.

Here are my 8 tips for dealing with difficult people

Tip #1:  Remain calm.  Have you ever seen someone screaming their head off at someone else?  Have you felt alternately embarrassed for them and uncomfortable around them?  Don’t be that coach.

Tip #2:  Focus on the facts.  Say a player comes up to you after a bad loss, complaining about playing time.  First of all, I’d tell you to schedule a meeting with them and not discuss it while emotions are running high, but…if you don’t have that rule established: focus on the facts.  In that situation, the fact is everyone is trying to win and you put the people out there who you thought would make that happen.  End of story.

Tip #3:  Keep perspective.  Whatever the situation is, it’s not life and death.  Your family still loves you.  Your friends still think you’re cool.  And you’ve still got a team to prepare.  Sometimes we’ve got to learn to let it go.

Tip #4:  Take the high road.  Even if that parent is calling you every name in the book, or that player is questioning your coaching chops…stay (as I said in tip #2) focused on the facts.

Tip #5:  Be very direct and assertive.  I don’t want you to misunderstand numbers one through four with being a pushover…none of us deserves to stand in there and be someone else’s verbal punching bag.  State your position clearly, let the person know you hear what they’re saying, and tell them if they’d like to discuss it further, to set up a meeting for a later date.

Tip #6:  Embrace the challenge.  This is why we get paid the big bucks!  I always tell my teams that they should (non-verbally) thank the other team for making them better, because there are certain things that come out in competition that won’t present themselves in practice.  Along those same lines, those difficult people who put us in difficult situations are making us better coaches.

Tip #7:  Become process oriented.  We’ve got to deal with it.  We can’t avoid the upset player or parent and silently wait for the season to come to an end.  We’ve got to sit down and think about the situation and come up with an action plan.

Tip #8:  Acknowledge imperfection.  Acknowledge that while you may have made a mistake (because no one is perfect), you always have the best intentions of the team at the forefront.  If, at the end of the day, you can look at yourself in the mirror and know that you gave your best effort…what more can you ask?

The inspiration for this post came from companyfounder.com and their article, How To Deal With Difficult People.  A lot of it comes down to understanding the various personality types, I’ve written about that here.  Sometimes difficult people are just rough mixes for our personality…while others are just difficult.  Either way, we need to know how to manage them.

Want to know more about what I believe?  Check out 10 Things I Believe About Leadership, 6 Things I Believe About Team Chemistry, 6 Things I Believe About Building Successful Teams.