Conflict is defined in several different ways. The one that I believe fits sports organizations the best is defined by Morgan as "conflict occurs whenever interests collide." Within an organization there is horizontal conflict and vertical conflict. Horizontal conflict is when there is a conflict between subunits at the same level of an organization. For example at a division I university the coordinator of campus recreation programs might have a conflict with coordinator of intercollegiate athletics over the use of a sports facility. Vertical conflict occurs between different hierarchical levels of an organization. Most of the vertical conflict stems from the need for control in a sport organization.
Conflict in sports organizations stem from several different sources. Slack and Parent list differentiation, interdependence, low formalization, competition over resources, differences in reward system, power incongruence, communication problems, participative decision making, and role conflict as some of the sources. Sports organizations need to have strong communication between the different divisions and throughout the different levels of the organization. If conflict arises in communication it is likely because the information got misinterpreted. Communication needs to be clear between the subunits. Another source of conflict can stem from the formalization of the organization. According to Slack and Parent "when formalization is high, the potential for conflict in a sport organization is low; when formalization is low, the potential for conflict is high" (p 223). The formalization of an organization is like a balancing act. You don't want too much, but you need enough so that your organization runs smoothly.
Slack and Parent give an example of conflict has happened in a real organization, that talk about is the 2004-2005 NHL lockout by the owners over salary cap disputes with the NHLPA (National Hockey League Players Association). This conflict between the owners and the players is an example of competition over resources, and in this case the resource was money. The owners and players tried to resolve this conflict over resources with confrontation and negotiation, this means that they met face-to-face to try to resolve their differences. Confrontation and negotiation is just one of several different conflict management strategies. Some of the other management strategies are authority, avoidance, separating or merging conflicting units, increasing resources, integrating devices, third-party interventions, superordinate goals, job rotation, and issues management. In the NHL lockout example the players association wanted to resolve the conflict with the management strategy of increasing resources. They believed that the success of an NHL team is based on the owners, and that they should basically find more money to support the trend of increasing players salaries. The players believed that they should not be punished for the owners not making a profit on a team. In this situation conflict was good. It forced both sides to sit down and come up with a solution to their problem of being the poorest of the four North American professional sport leagues, and which they did with a salary cap. A little bit of conflict is needed within an organization to make that organization effective.