There have been situations in my coaching career, where I’ve really messed things up, and saying “I am sorry!” in a sincere way was the only thing I could do to solve the situation. I don’t want to get into much details. Instead I’d like to share with you how you could go forward and apologize, if you screwed up.

Actually, it can be very simple. Just two basic words can have the power to heal all wounds and absolve all offenses. Trust me!

Where did we ever idea that it was okay to make selfish decisions or use words loosely, and then be able to close the door on the entire affair by just stating those two simple words? We might be taught to think those words could do the trick, however, don’t be mistaken here. They do not have any magic to them. These words usually do not heal, do not absolve, and do not lead to restored relationships and reconciliation.

I know there are others who feel the same way I do. Enforcing this particular method of apology completely transformed the relationship to the players in my teams.

Players started relishing the chance to admit to their wrongdoings, restore their friendships and share their intent of making changes. I’m pretty sure, that this lesson wasn’t just one for my young players. Adults needed it too! Perhaps it is because all of us grew up where we were forced to apologize and say “I am sorry.” Although it might have worked fine when we were in grade school, it began to lose some magic after problems grew into breaking hearts from breaking crayons. It could include less dramatic things as well.

So, I taught my players and coaching staff the following:

  1. I am sorry for …
  2. That is wrong because …
  3. I will in the future …
  4. Will you please forgive me?

I am sorry that I critized you in front of the coach and team. That was wrong and that was a disrespectful thing for me to do. I will in the future talk to you in private, when I have to. Will you please forgive me?

Yes, it is true that for a small matter that seems like a big mouthful. However, here is what is important about it: the player stopped criticizing in public. Four sentences isn’t a large investment for someone being part of a team. That is about as simple as it gets.

For younger players that may be all well and good, but what should us adults do? You don’t expect me to use those awkward, uncomfortable and formal sentence stems while looking you directly in the eye, do you? The sentence stems? I promise that there is nothing evil about sentence stems. However, apart from that, I don’t insist for them to be used as adults. It may sound like a total cliche, but what is important is getting to what the heart of the matter is.

  1. I am sorry for … / I feel very bad about … / I apologize for …
    You can start with any of those phrases, or just say something similar to get your point across that you regret what you did. Make sure that you are specific.
  2. That was wrong because … / I wish I had not because … It made you feel …
    Next, address the consequences that are following, including the emotions of the other person. The more specific you can be, the better. This will demonstrate that you realize that you caused unhappy emotions. Sometimes that can be more meaningful than whatever else you could say. If you are introspective and humble enough, you can also touch on how an undesirable character trait of yours was fed: laziness, selfishness. This is optional, but it can’t hurt to put in a little extra effort.
  3. In the future, I will … / Next time …
    State your plan to change and make it very clear. There is no point in apologizing if you have no intention of fighting your inclination when a similar situation arises the next time.
  4. Will you please forgive me?
    These are humbling words, but also very powerful. I can think of no better way to say this than asking for it directly … with less expectation and more hope.

Also carefully consider the things you are saying beyond your words: your tone of voice, facial expressions, body language. Nothing can infuriate a person more than receiving an insincere apology. I’m sure most of you would agree that it is better not to get an apology than to receive a phony one.

You would think after writing, thinking and teaching it, that apologizing would be something I was an expert at. However, I am not. I can be a very self-absorbed and prideful individual. I am the first to admit I am very bad at apologizing. I break my rules, I mumble, I can’t make decent eye contact and I am awkward.

I find myself in front of my players, trying to get ready to apologize. I am fighting off the urge to cold shoulder it and run off and get all huffy and just stew about things and make reasons up why it’s all this particulars players fault, instead of mine. He just waits, while somewhat miffed, and wonders why he is being made just to stand there as I stare at the floor. That isn’t a regular thing for us to do, as far as sincerely apologizing.

I get so flustered that I can’t think of how I want to say things. So I start working through the childish sentences stems since that is what comes to mind. “I am sorry for … !” The results are certainly not childish, though.

It worked. My player’s eyes softened, he became visibly relaxed, and he even managed a half of a smile. More importantly, it worked for me. Finally, my heart was able to admit that I had made a selfish and poor choice, and part of my brain has been slightly rewired to work better in the future.

Was this an easy thing to do? No. Do I believe everybody should go around using sentence stems? No. Probably you are a more elegant, poised and articulate individual than I am, and you won’t need to use them. However, if you find yourself fumbling with your words when it’s time for you to be humble, then maybe you will want to keep it in mind. Regarding resolving conflict, there is a very big difference between experiencing true reconciliation and dropping an issue. Sometimes, it all comes down to something as simple as finding a better way of saying, “I am sorry.”