Conflict Management and Cultural Reparation: Consulting “Below Zero” With a College Basketball Team

in Case Studies in Sport and Exercise Psychology
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Although sport psychology consultants typically engage in conflict resolution as part of team interventions, cases of extreme relationship conflict in teams resulting in distrust, tension, and hostility require special consideration for the consultant who is starting “below zero” when beginning a consultant relationship with a program. Such a case warrants not just culture building, but cultural reparation and the development of resolution efficacy among team members. The purpose of this case study is to describe an intervention program with a college basketball team that was experiencing multiple relationships conflicts and an extremely dysfunctional team culture. The intervention focused on (a) enabling players to take ownership of and be accountable for a “smart system” team culture, (b) initiating a process to build resolution efficacy that focused on accepting and managing task conflict (while reducing relationship conflict) and emphasized interpersonal risk-taking and vulnerability to build trust, and (c) enhancing coach-athlete relationships. Reflections on the case include the importance of vigilance about ethical boundary and confidentiality issues in “below zero” situations and the role of coaches who prefer transactional leadership styles in building team culture and resolution efficacy for conflict.

The author is with the Dept. of Kinesiology and Health, Miami University, Oxford, OH.

Address author correspondence to Robin S. Vealey at vealeyrs@miamioh.edu.
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