Our Approach

When an organization becomes acquainted with the enormous costs of destructive conflict, administrators are generally eager to resolve the dispute. While this may be an intuitive response—much more so than implementing preventive measures—resolving conflict is not a simple task. Many times, when trying to curb the costs of destructive conflict, we become so focused upon the symptoms that we overlook the causes. In such cases, the conflict is never truly resolved.  SCI works closely with you to understand the underlying reasons for the issue, manage the immediate crisis, and implement a lasting, cost-effective solution. The goal is to find the least invasive, appropriate process for resolution. 

Leverage innovative approaches to achieve better outcomes

When first facing an issue, it is critical to have expertise involved as early as possible to mitigate exposure and escalation. The costs and impact of investigations, lawsuits, and other more invasive means for resolution are substantial. While they have their time, place, and role, often we arrive there because we failed to use more effective processes at the onset of the crisis or issue.

Conflict Resolution Services

Resolving conflict is an area of deep expertise at SCI. We have decades of experience in helping find solutions to some of the most complex, entrenched disputes along with quickly defining paths forward for the daily issues that cause problems.

Contact SCI to discuss your Conflict Resolution needs

Show more +

We Know There’s a Problem, But We Don’t Know What to Do

An organization may recognize that it could be operating much more effectively than it is, but no one is sure what to do about it. In many situations, stakeholders at all levels have different ideas about where the problem resides and how it should be handled. While complicated and consuming, these conflicts can be resolved if the parties themselves have an interest in doing so (and they usually do).

Weighing the Options

There are a number of ways to approach a particular conflict situation, and there are costs and benefits associated with each approach.

In general, there are four basic ways in which to resolve conflict in sports:

  • Resolve it ourselves. Sometimes the conflict can be resolved by the parties involved. 
  • Seek assistance from someone within the organization. Sometimes there exists an individual within the organization who can help the parties resolve their conflict (e.g. Athlete Development Specialist, Coach, Athletic Administrator, etc.).
  • Seek assistance from a neutral third party. Sometimes the situation is too emotional, complicated, or long-standing for the parties to resolve the conflict on their own, but it is impractical or unwise to seek assistance from another party within the organization. Assistance from a neutral third party can help all parties to participate equally in devising a resolution the issue at hand.
  • Seek assistance from advocates: Sometimes parties are not equipped to represent their own interests when attempting to resolve particular conflict situations. In these situations, informed advocates can be called in to act in the interest of others. (Some examples of advocates include: consultants,  union representatives, attorneys, agents, etc.)

Selecting the Method

Not only does destructive conflict itself wield enormous costs, the resolution process often requires significant resources that would otherwise be invested elsewhere. In light of these costs, it is advantageous to consider the conflict resolution strategies available and to select the least invasive process one could reasonably employ to resolve the issue.

What is the Nature of the Conflict?

When faced with a single episode of conflict, we must attempt to understand the complete nature of the problem in order to take appropriate steps to effectively resolve it.


If we aim to resolve a problem, it behooves us to collect as much information as possible about its nature. Who is involved? What events transpired? Are there time constraints around the issue or its resolution? What interests are at play?


When we have obtained as much information as possible through the intake process, we can sort through the available dispute resolution strategies and select the method(s) best suited to resolving the issue at hand.

Incorporating Neutrals: Who They Are & What They Do

Neutrals are not consultants. Most third party neutrals (e.g., mediators, ombuds, etc.) seek to distinguish themselves from consultants because they do not claim to be experts, nor do they rush in to tell everyone how to behave in some superhero effort to save the day. They possess a process-oriented skill set, geared toward an efficient process that leverages the expertise of the impacted parties with regards to the substantive outcome.

Reducing costs through empowerment. Neutrals try to help individuals help themselves by getting to the underlying causes of the issue. Through participatory methods such as mediation, negotiation, and conflict coaching, neutrals teach administrators, coaches, and athletes how to successfully resolve their own conflicts, thereby reducing reliance upon costly advocates.

Participation yields more lasting change. When individuals are able to devise solutions to their own problems, they take ownership and they are more likely to follow through on agreements.

The need for systemic change

Unfortunately, many organizations only seek to put out the fire and return to business as usual. This is an opportunity forgone. Long-term institutional change will require what may seem a daunting amount of time, money, and effort; however, in the long term, the investment will result in a tremendous conservation of resources.

The Method: Interests, Rights & Power

Experts in the conflict management field generally divide dispute resolution methods into three broad categories based upon their general driving principles: interests, rights and power.

  • Interest-based methods recognize all parties as equals. They attempt to resolve conflict by identifying the interests of all relevant stakeholders. Then they devise mutually agreeable plans to ensure that most or all of the stated needs can be met.
  • Rights-based methods rely upon independent standards in order to determine who is right and who is wrong. These rights may include stated legal rights, as well as socially accepted standards such as reciprocity or seniority.
  • Power-based methods generally favor the party who possesses the power to impose greater costs upon the opposing party (or parties). The party who can impose such costs or threaten to do so is able to coerce the others into taking particular action.

The following figure places a number of dispute resolution procedures along a continuum that ranges from interest-based methods on the left to power-based methods on the right.

The Conflict Continuum




Differentiating Between Interests and Positions

When conflict situations arise, we often attempt to negotiate by asserting our position. We grow attached to a particular outcome and we attempt to justify to the other party (or parties) why we deserve it. Under an interest-based approach, parties are better able to devise solutions that are amenable to all.

Assessment: What it is & Why it Matters

The first step in addressing any conflict situation is to conduct an assessment. Assessment attempts to establish a complete picture of the situation. It is a critical step toward understanding the layers of conflict and identifying the parties (or stakeholders) involved.


The assessment ultimately answers the following questions to diagnose the issue at hand:

  • What kinds of disputes occur? Whom do they involve? How frequently do they occur?
  • How are they addressed? 
  • Why are these procedures used to address the dispute as opposed to others?
  • What prevents the existing system from successfully resolving disputes? Is there a lack of procedures, skills, motivation or resources?

It is important to understand the specific costs and benefits associated with the dispute situations identified through the questions above.

Turning to a System that Works: “Negotiating on the Merits”

The Harvard Negotiation Project has devised a structure called “Negotiation on the Merits” that outlines guiding principles for addressing “difficult conversations”:

  • People – Separate the people from the problem 
  • Interests – Focus on interests, not positions
  • Options – Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do
  • Criteria – Insist that the result be based on some objective standard
  • Establishing a Consensus-Based Approach

Strategies for Resolving Conflict in Sports

We must consider context when devising strategies to address specific types of conflict. The following examples of conflict resolution approaches have proven particularly effective when employed in sports-related contexts.

  • Conflict Coaching. Conflict coaching strengthens the systems and procedures that assist sports organizations in dealing with conflict that occurs among players, coaches, fans and referees, while also identifying areas of potential skills trainings for individuals and participants. 
  • Mediation. Using a skilled neutral to help develop an effective space for parties’ resolving their conflict.
  • Ombuds: Finding the Middle Ground. Ombuds have an opportunity to work with a number of stakeholders through a variety of conflict situations. They ask questions and attempt to identify the underlying causes of conflict through confidential interviews and consultations. Because this work enables ombuds to see the larger picture through the eyes of many different stakeholders, they are well positioned to identify conflict trends and recommend areas for organizational or institutional change.
  • Team Accountability Model. This model employs a consensus-based approach by designing the system within the team itself. Athletes are well positioned to create their own dispute systems because they are familiar with the challenges they face on a daily basis. When players are able to discuss existing conflicts and develop methods to resolve them, they are more accountable than when the methods are imposed by administrators or outside practitioners.


Benefits include optimal performance, increased wins, increased revenues, and decreased costs; conflict resolution in sports also yields other societal benefits. Importantly, it helps get everyone back to focus on sports!

Conflict can be complicated. It can be emotional. It can be muddled by positions and personalities. If, however, we are able to negotiate on the merits, we can develop consensus-based solutions that are amenable to all stakeholders. 

Negative conflict is not inherent to sport. It can be prevented and resolved. The costs can be reduced or avoided altogether. Effective conflict resolution  yields long-term benefits that far outweigh the costs. It is a necessary action to continue the growth of the industry, optimize competitive performance, and protect the good will fundamental to sport.

How do you handle conflict on your sports team? How do you keep it from spiraling into a large, public dispute? How do Read more >
Do you need an experienced mediator to assist with your sports related issue? Hoping to avoid costly litigation? Do you Read more >