When it comes to preventing cliques and bullying behaviors, it’s best to be proactive. While it’s easy to get caught up in drills, rosters, and logistics, coaches who focus on building strong team-wide relationships from the first day of practice are less likely to run into the social problems, like cliques, that hurt teams and players.
TrueSport Expert Nadia Kyba, a social worker and expert in conflict resolution, explains how to avoid cliques forming, and how to deal with them if they do.
1. Understand the skill of team-wide relationships
"The more coaches can do in terms of relationship-building on the team, the better," says Kyba. "It's just as important as skill-building in terms of performance and athlete retention: it's going to serve you when things go south or when people want to leave. The great coaches that I speak to are on top of avoiding cliques from day one."
2. Recognize that cliques are natural
"Groups of kids who know each other from school or from different activities will naturally want to stick together because it’s comfortable," Kyba says. "I think that it's really important to acknowledge that it's sometimes tough for kids to make new relationships, especially if they're feeling insecure about their athletic abilities. Close friendships among teammates are fine and normal, but cliques are the negative side of small groups of friends in larger team contexts. When others are being excluded, that's when a coach needs to step in."