The Rec League Jerk: Overcoming “THAT” Person

Our members play with us for a variety of reasons. For most, it’s an opportunity to get out and remain active on a weekly basis, to see friends and colleagues outside of work, and to meet new people.

Undeniably, many also enjoy the feeling of getting the competitive juices flowing while they work towards a victory.

And for most, win or lose, the sun rises the next day and life goes on.

But for a small but visible minority, the weekly game seems to inevitably be an hour of conflict and negativity.i5z3w

We’re talking about the player who is overly aggressive and unapologetic, the one who is verbally abusive and loves the passive aggressive commentary, or worst of all, the one who breaks or ignores rules claiming ignorance or indifference.

For some, playing in a recreational atmosphere is a challenge.

A very small percentage of our club contributes to the bulk of the negativity that we see in our games. How small a percentage? Last year, taking into account the thousands and thousands of games that were played, we saw fewer than 4% of those games result in less than perfect spirit scores. And incident reports were an even smaller fraction of that!

The challenge is that poor sportsmanship tends to really resonate with opponents beyond just a single incident.i5zfm

So how does one deal with “that player”?

One of the best ways to minimize the player’s impact is to better understand them. Empathy is an excellent tool.

Our members come from a wide variety of sports backgrounds so it’s not surprising to consider that many have played at high levels where aggression and physicality are expected and encouraged. These hyper-competitive atmospheres breed great athletes but don’t always align with rec league expectations. While most are able to adjust playing styles, some just can’t dial back the on field fire.


Players also place very different levels of importance on winning. For some, this recreational play is a last opportunity to hoist a trophy and feel the thrill of winning! And for others, the challenges and burdens of every-day life truly impact who they are on the field. Empathizing with these players will reduce the power they have over everyone on the field.

How about your own team? Are you secretly harbouring THAT person?

More often than not that friend or colleague who is so unbearable on the field is a well-adjusted, intelligent and friendly person in everyday life. It’s only in sports that they turn into THAT person. Still, it’s our job as teammates to let them know when they cross the line. The misconception with “self-officiated” leagues is that teams believe it’s their job to call fouls against their opponents. But really, the system is designed to encourage teammates to be responsible for each other.

Well that’s all fine and well, but what is the league doing about these players?

The league has a variety of tools available to help manage a player or team that is not meeting our expectations for fair play and positive attitudes. After each game, team captains award the opponents spirit points with the opportunity to leave notes. They can also submit incidents through our on-line system. With this information, we follow up directly with parties involved. We also issue formal warnings, suspensions and expulsions from the league (thankfully rarely). But if you don’t tell us, we won’t know! That communication from you is vital.val

And don’t be afraid to take that communication one step further on the field. Every team, no matter how contentious a game it is, has at least one entirely reasonable person playing. Identify that person and find some common ground. It’s a great way to open dialogue and perhaps find a way to deal with a problem player.

I’m Sorry

OK now it’s time to look at you, cranky pants! You’ve gone and made a jerk of yourself at your game. You profess your innocence but deep down inside you know darn well that you were out of line. Here’s what you do now:


Take a deep breath and say “I’m Sorry”. Say it and mean it. It’s amazing how much better you and everyone else around you will feel.

Try to imagine yourself playing in front of a group of children. Think about the example you’d want to set. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself this is supposed to be fun. This is the one hour a week where you get to run around and forget your problems. Challenge yourself to be the better person, even if you feel your opponents aren’t giving you a fair shake.

In the words of John Wooden, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”

What kind of player do you want to be?

~Written by Trevor Shelly

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