Identifying and Handling a Disruptive Volleyball Player

Stop the Problem Before It Spreads

Angry volleyball player
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A disruptive player is one that brings negativity to your team in some way that makes it difficult to progress. In a previous article, we discussed some different ways that disruptive players can operate and saw some real world examples of how coaches responded and how that worked out for them.

Now let’s discuss some things to keep in mind when you are dealing with a disruptive player. If you are the coach of a disruptive player, you should never forget who is in charge.

No matter how good the player is, how integral they are to the team or how manipulative they may be, you are the authority figure on the team and thus the team leader. Never let a player assume the leadership role that you should have sewn up. That means you should not let them dictate what happens, shirk the team rules or tell you how things are going to be. You should not play catch up or lead from behind.

Often, if a player has become so repeatedly disruptive that you’re searching for solutions, they are used to having their own way and have not had much experience with discipline. They may even be longing for someone to put them in their place. They may be exploring the boundaries. If ignored, things could get decidedly worse.

A player who has a negative attitude or that keeps undermining your authority in some way is not unlike a cancer that attacks the human body. When a cancer goes untreated, it spreads to other organs and becomes even more difficult to cure.

This can happen on a team as well. If the person’s negative attitude and disrespect for a coach's authority is allowed to continue, it can quickly spread to other players and become extremely difficult to stop.

Whatever you do, do not ignore the problem. Handle it right away and handle it with the severity the behavior deserves.

If you don’t, you could be looking down the barrel of a very long, very hard season.

When dealing with a disruptive player, you may want to consider the ways in which a doctor would approach curing a disease, like cancer, in one of his patients. What you're dealing with is not so different. Here are three steps to keep in mind:

  1. Diagnose the Problem
  2. Determine the Best Method to Treat It
  3. If All Else Fails, Cut

Diagnose the Problem

The first thing you should do when dealing with a disruption is to identify the source. This may not be as simple as it sounds. The cancer may have already spread to other players and if it has, it is important that you determine which player is ultimately responsible for the negative behavior.

There is almost always a ringleader and if you can figure out which of your players is the one that is encouraging, inciting or suggesting bad behavior to the others, you should start there.

If you can deal directly with that player and find a way to solve the problem, the others will fall in line as well. Once you know your player and understand who you’re dealing with, you can determine your best course of action.

Determine the Best Method of Action

In order to solve your particular problem, you need to figure out what it is that the player loves and threaten to take it away.

There is always something that he or she cares about and it is your job to figure out what that is. Sometimes threatening to take it away is enough, other times, the player will call your bluff and you’ll need to be prepared to follow through if necessary.

Get to the true core of what the player loves and why he’s on the team in the first place and fashion your solution around that. Take a good look and try your best to see what type of personality you’re dealing with. It may take some time and some trial and error but eventually you’ll hit a nerve and you’ll get the desired response.

Make sure that the consequence matches the misbehavior. A slap on the wrist for an egregious mistake can exacerbate the problem and encourage others to disobey if they think you aren’t serious. A punishment that is too harsh can backfire as well if it is seen as unfair and unnecessary.

Consider your options and make sure that you’re not making the decision rashly or in anger. It may help to talk to your fellow coaches about your situation and to get ideas or get their thoughts on what you’re thinking of doing. Once the decision is made, follow through and don’t waver or cave. Your players need to know that you mean business.

If All Else Fails, Cut Ties

First, try to deal directly with the player. Talk to them, make sure they understand that the behavior is unacceptable, ask them to stop and tell them that there will be consequences if the behavior continues.

If that doesn’t work, implement the punishment that you have determined is the best course of action. You may want to try several punishments with ascending severity and see what kind of response you get.

If none of that works, you may need to remove the player from the team. You have to consider what is best for the team as a whole and no matter how good the player is; the negative energy can negate his or her immense talent and bring the team down.

Be prepared for the fall out if you need to engage this option, as it may come from unexpected sources. But as the coach, the team leader and the ultimate authority, you have to do what you see fit to solve the problem and make the best of a bad situation. The overall good of the team always comes first.