How to deal with negative teammates

So you’ve been practicing your mental toughness techniques, learning how to stay focused rather than being distracted by negative thoughts, and you’ve even gotten a handle on how to stay positive when you or your team are not winning. Great! You’re ahead of the curve and are setting yourself up for peak performance.

The nature of competitive sport, however, is that you’re not in this alone, and if you play on a team, then the attitudes of your teammates can be just as important as your own.

A player who knows how to stay focused and motivated, saying things like “let’s have some fun out there” or “that was a great run” or “it’s all about teamwork, I’ve got your back” will surely keep your spirits lifted and your head in the game. With players like that, you’re not only likely to perform at your best, you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for your sport and what it really means to be a part of something bigger than yourself.

If, on the other hand, you’re playing with teammates who are negative, get frustrated easily, argue with the coach, make derogatory comments, don’t always show up, are verbally or physically abusive with teammates, or otherwise ruin the sport for everybody else, then it’s going to be much harder for you to stay focused and do your best.

Rather than allowing this to drag you down, damage your confidence, and pull you away from a sport you love, try these suggestions instead:

1. Don’t engage the negativity

It’s easy to get sucked into the black hole of negative thoughts, words, and actions, especially if there is more than one player on your team who’s causing trouble. But YOU are still in control of YOURSELF. If you see yourself taking on negative characteristics, psyching yourself out, taking your sport less seriously, or reacting from a place of fear rather than confidence, bring awareness to what’s happening and refocus your concentration on what matters to you: challenging yourself, improving your skills, having fun. Believe it or not you can still get the most out of your team or sport when you don’t waste your brainpower on those negative people.

2. Talk to the coach

It’s very likely that your coach will be aware of how disruptive one or some of the players on the team might be. If you’ve got a good coach, they’re probably doing their best to address the problem at the root cause, but what they may not realize is how it affects YOU personally. If the negative behavior is out of control, then DON’T KEEP QUIET about it, find a time to talk to your coach privately and see if there’s any way they can address the problem more directly or improve the team experience for you. Just remember to keep things in perspective and talk about how this negativity is affecting your confidence, enjoyment of the sport, or performance during practice or game time. Your coach is your ally and can come up with a solution that lifts a huge weight off your shoulders.

3. Approach this as an opportunity for growth

You may not want to hear this, but experiencing this sort of adversity can actually make you STRONGER. It’s a challenge that tests your concentration, your commitment, conflict resolution skills, problem-solving abilities, and might just motivate you to perform even better. When you’re thinking about this problem and how it affects you, take a moment to consider how it might benefit you as well. The answer may not be obvious and may not come right away, but asking this question can shift your mindset to still get something valuable from the experience.

4. Look beyond the outward negativity

Oftentimes players who are negative or disruptive are not doing it to hurt you, they’re just reacting to some other negative experience from their past and this is how it comes out. If you look beyond the outward negative expression and try acceptance, compassion, or even friendship then you might just find there to be much more beyond the surface, which changes everything. I’m not saying you should be their therapist, solve all their problems, or even that they’ll allow you to get close, but you can start by making a small effort to get to know them better and see where that takes you.

I hope this helps to adjust your approach to negative teammates so that even if you can’t affect what they do, you can affect your response to remain positive.

What’s been your experience of dealing with negative teammates?

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Image credit: Mike Meares; SSgt; USAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Alan Goldberg
Sports Coach at Competitive Edge
As an internationally-known expert in the field of peak sports performance, Dr Alan Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic calibre right down to junior competitors. Alan specialises in peak performance and mental toughness for athletes of all ages at

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