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June 08, 2016

How To Deal With Angry Athletes

How To Deal With Angry Athletes

You’ve done everything right – all your ducks are in a row, all your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed and you are ready to coast through your event calm, happy and incident-free. 

And then... Red alert! Red alert! All hands on deck!

It’s bound to happen sooner or later. Maybe you have to deal with an event cancellation because of some freak monsoon or your expo is attacked by a horde of zombies (hey, it could happen – have you seen The Walking Dead?!).

Either way, sometimes the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, and when it does, you’re going to have a lot of angry athletes on your hands (and they’re probably going to be even scarier than that horde of zombies at your expo).

Time for some serious damage control.



One of the cardinal rules of relationships is to say “I’m sorry” when you mess up. So the first thing you need to do to deal with your angry swarm of athletes is take a deep breath, put on your big boy or girl pants and apologize.

While this can – and should – be simple, it certainly isn’t for everyone. It seems there are no two words in the English language that are harder for some people to say than “I’m sorry”.

Don't be one of those people.

Maybe whatever happened to make your athletes angry is not your fault. Even if that's the case, trying to sweep the problem under the rug without a proper apology is just going to keep your athletes fired up.

The delivery of the apology (whether it’s through email, through race text messaging, an announcement via your race management software, or belting out “Sorry” by Justin Beiber) is going to depend on the situation, so use your discretion. Whatever the delivery method (I vote Bieber), just make sure it gets delivered.


Redirect + Offer A Solution

Need help dealing with your angry athletes? Use a tactic that’s just as successful on race day as it is when getting a screaming toddler to calm down: redirect their attention toward a solution to their problem.

Have you ever seen a toddler screaming bloody murder in the middle of a grocery store, and just when you’re ready to rip your hair out, the kid’s mom or dad hands them a toy and the piercing cries immediately grow silent? 

The toddler hushed up because his problem (bored and cranky) has been solved by something new and interesting to hold his attention. You need to offer the same thing for your athletes.

Example - Messed up and overcharged your athletes? Refund them and offer them a free race registration to a future event. They’ll be so stoked about their upcoming free race and your willingness to fix the problem that they’ll forget about being angry about this race.

Who knew a tactic celebrated by exhausted parents everywhere could be just as useful to a race director?


Take Care Of Your Staff

Happy staff = happy athletes. 

This is so often overlooked, but it’s a really important thing to remember when you’re audience is pissed with a capital P.

Don’t forget to take care of your staff. 

If you’re the general, your staff is the army. And they’re on the front lines. They’re the ones responding to emails, dealing directly with disgruntled athletes and probably getting screamed at least once a day during your angry athlete debacle. 

You might be leading the charge, but your team is in the trenches. And that’s why it’s SO important to make sure that you make yourself available to them and make sure they have everything they need to be happy, sane and productive.

Give your team positive feedback and let them know how much you appreciate their hard work. Listen to them when they need to vent about a particularly bad experience. Get down there in the trenches with them if you can. Order lunch for the office. Do coffee runs. And when it's all over, do something for the team that shows them how much their hard work means to you and your race.


No one likes to deal with angry people, but when you’re throwing a race, it’s par for the course. If you put these tips into play and go into damage control mode, you’ll be playing nice in the sandbox with your athletes again in no time.

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