By Evan Tabachnick & Warren Tabachnick
When it comes to asking a rec hockey player to leave the team, it is best to consistently maintain a polite, professional manner in communicating the team’s intentions. While it’s good to be firm in your message, at the same time you should try to soften the blow of getting “kicked off” the team, which can be very tough to handle for both the problem player and team alike.
Identifying the Problem Teammate
The situation where a teammate can be a ‘problem player’ can arise due to any number or combination of factors. To name a few:
• The player’s skill level is not up to par with the rest of the team
• They are a ‘try-hard’ player with a bad attitude and poor sportsmanship
• He/she does not show up to games
• They like to mix it up and fight in a recreational league
• They refuse to pay league fees, etc.
Whatever the case may be, it is the team consensus that this player’s presence on the roster is detrimental to the team. This must be a team decision, as no one player—not even the captain—has the authority to remove a player based on a personal gripe. On the micro scale, say, two or three players at odds with one another, these issues are to be treated as small disputes and it’s the responsibility of the captain to see them resolved. When it becomes evident that the majority of the team is in agreement on removing a player (or several) from the roster, it is to be done swiftly and without wavering, in a fair and efficient manner.
Consensus should be established through a vote or survey of the team. With email and social media playing such a big role in team management these days, captains can conduct this process fairly anonymously by collecting opinions through one-on-one email or private messages. This takes some of the strain and awkwardness out of the situation. It is important to mention this consensus without name-dropping, as it’s easier and more powerful to say, “The team took a vote, and we have decided to ask you not to return next season” than to say, “Bob, John, and Lisa want you gone.” Keeping it simple and anonymous will save a lot of heartache and trouble for everyone.
Seemingly every gathering of people of any size and cause will, at some point, develop a political web within, often creating pressures and unspoken rules. Rec league hockey, unfortunately, is not exempt from politics. Ostensibly minor actions and words have the potential to be very impactful down the line. Case in point: if the problem teammate has an allegiance with another player on the team, the loyal friend could also end up leaving the team as a result of his friend’s dismissal. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind what the possible impact of these major decisions might have on the team. If dismissing a player comes at the cost of also losing a leading scorer (or, worse, a goalie!), you need to strongly consider the repercussions and have a plan for moving forward.
Doing just a bit of damage control can help smooth out this difficult process. Following up with both the problem teammate in question, as well as the team, in the days or weeks following the action will have everyone feeling a bit more at ease about what just went down. Depending on the severity of the player’s infractions, it helps to remind them that it’s not a personal decision, but rather one for the betterment of the team (if applicable; of course, if they cursed out their teammates and stormed out of the locker room after every loss, this would not be an appropriate correspondence). It would also help to remind the team that they are “safe” and that this decision was voted on and served the majority’s decision.
The Bottom Line
The best way to initiate a smooth dismissal is to be smart. Hockey, as we all know, is a passionate sport that sometimes sees tempers flare and emotions run high. Being honest, diplomatic, and careful in your dealings will maintain healthy team chemistry and, most importantly, keep the game fun.
Evan Tabachnick is the Executive Director of a statewide sports organization. Warren Tabachnick is editor & publisher of CrossIceHockey.com. They both play in two recreational hockey leagues.
How do you deal with a problem teammate on your team? Post your comment below and let us know!
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