WHEN MORE IS NOT ALWAYS MERRIER - HOW TO DECREASE THE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL LOAFING.
This goes out to coaches who want to achieve more with their team. There is a phenomenon in group environments called social loafing. Though you have heard about it and even likely experienced it, you were likely not even aware of it. What it means is when your teacher in school gave you a group task together with three other people, you were less engaged than when you would have done it alone. You were expecting the others to do the job or the other way around: you did the job while others were relying on your knowledge and work. This is a common human behavior which occurs everywhere: in relationships and families, in offices and companies and… in your team.
For us, me as a sport psychologist and you as a coach, the important question is: How to prevent your team from social loafing? What can you actually DO, that allows you to get everyone's full energy for maximal performance and satisfaction? Fortunately, if you look at the research, there are some key points that you should consider. Here we go.
1. The first and most important thing is that every athlete knows is that his/her performance is perceived. Or even better, that their performance outcome is identifiable – make it measurable. Let's say, during practice there is a group task to solve. To prevent social loafing, break it down into individual tasks for every athlete and make the performance of every athlete visible.
Do it in a way that every athlete feels seen… and loved. You're not doing this to show somebody off, but to make your squad effective and successful in the long run.
2. Second powerful tool is to have regular meetings with every athlete to speak about personal performance developments and potentials, find process goals together and check them when appropriate. This is a way to show your interest and appreciation and will increase commitment to their personal performance, as well the teams development – easy and very effective.
3. Increase the personal importance of the tasks. The higher the intrinsic motivation, the lower the risk of social loafing. How you do that? Be creative, e.g. give prizes for specific tasks or reaching certain goals, announce a “team player of the week“ or a “hard worker of the month“.
4. Next thing to consider is that the more important the group is for the individual the morework they will put in. What does that mean for you? Strengthen the cohesion in your team through team building activities. The goal is that being part of the team is a part of the athletes identity. They are not just any random basketball/volleyball/football player, but part of a supreme community. That means it's important to build a team identity and identify something your team stands for and that the players can connect to. Then let any athlete be a special part of that community by defining his/her role and tasks. Make it really transparent. What are the expectations and how to fulfill them? Try to make the same rules for everybody and stick to them. All of this sounds difficult to you? Start that work from the beginning on, and go step by step and make it happen – it's worth it. Any athlete wishes to have a coach who is doing this kind of work.
5. Train in small groups more frequently – it brings more visibility of each individual.
6. During practice have more focus on the completing a task successfully and improving players than on the competition of the athletes.
7. And last but least, have an eye on team members with a bigger ego and a high need for validity. Be aware and take action if you get the feeling that somebody relaxes in the expense of others.
Now it's your turn - try it out. Don't forget that every athlete and every team is different and might need a slightly different approach to reach maximum performance.
I'm here to help with any questions and looking forward to hearing your experiences!
Ohlert, J. & Zepp, C. (2019). Gruppenleistungen im Sport. In Schüler, J., Wegner, M., Plessner, H. (Hrsg.), Sportpsychologie (S.395-425). Berlin: Springer.