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Is It Good To Be A Harsh Coach?...Or Be Gentle?


Let’s face it, put your hand up if you have never cheated on conditioning. Sure, I'm sure some of you really have never. I more sure though that that is a very small minority and that even if asked, you would say you never did or at least that you don’t as much as you really do. This is normal. Everyone lies. But why do we lie? What could an athlete possibly gain by telling their coach they did 10 rope climbs when really they only did 8? You lost 2 reps of potential protein building. How on earth does that help you?

Well the field of social psychology looks to answer these kinds of questions and have to admit the answers are a bit startling and some of you may think this is all hogwash so I will put in graphs from the studies to show you how you are not the perfect caring and super awesome human being you tell yourself you are. Even as you read that previous statement many of you are thinking. “ No, not me, everyone else, but not me”. Well, your unconsciously lying and we will discuss why. We will explore human nature and along that path you will have a better understanding of why you would possibly think cheating is a good thing for you in the gym or in life.

Let’s start off with a simple fact. Humans live to satisfy their needs, not their wants. Wants are great but that is not what is fuelling our motives on a daily basis. We really only have ONE MAJOR NEED. It is survival. Sure you can say that companionship and nutrition and all these things are needs as well but they all come under survival. We simply need to survive and our brain is wired to make sure that happens. At a fundamental level we create a world in our heads where we are the king. We do not care about elders, people in hospitals or starving children in Africa. Sorry but it is true. The only reason that humans have this concept that we should donate to the less fortunate or anything of that nature is that when you see a picture of a starving boy in Uganda with a “Go Fund Me” link on screen the parts of your brain that light up are the parts that imagine if you were him. You do not care that he is starving or hurt at an essential level, you only are thinking subconsciously, “Thank God That Is Not Me”.

I do not have the study here as I read about it in a book but when you see someone do anything, that same part of your brain that would be responsible for that movement also light up, even if you do not copy the movement. You only feel pain for others because your brain is giving you a very small dose of it yourself in your brain and thats why people wince when they see someone else break their arm or fall off the bars. “What if I had fallen off the bars?, that would suck!”.

So then the logical question becomes, why do we have this false bravado of caring? If we are all so selfish anyway, then why wouldn't we say “Screw everyone else?” Well see this is where is gets complicated. Back in the day cavemen would get eaten by wild animals and humans learned that if they stick together in groups that they have a higher chance of survival. So we created communities of humans and used the large numbers to protect our own selfish interests.

When you build a community you have to basically buy into the the rules of the group. These rules dictate how humans should get a long with the least amount of friction between members. Over the years humans have learned what the “rules” are and what is EXPECTED from us. We know that if we do not do what is expected from us we will get kicked out of the group and thrown into the wild and effectively die. “Oh I will survive in the wild”. That is what I hear when I bring this discussion up to people. Well you may be lying to yourself but your brain does not really believe it because you are still here. You are hardwired to follow the group from thousands of years ago because your subconscious knows that survival alone is very hard and you will probably be killed by a cougar or elephant or something.

George Wicklund call the concept of the “Rules” the “Generalized Other”. It is what we think that the other members of the community need from us to remain in the group. Because of the fact we know that getting kicked out would literally mean the difference between life and death we put the Generalized Other at the very frontline of our brain. It is the single most important thing we think about on a daily basis. “ Are we doing what is expected? Will others think I am valuable? Thats it! Thats all our daily decisions come to. Will my parents think I am making the right decision in terms of a career? Does my coach think I am doing the reps properly? Do my friends at gymnastics think I am a good training partner?

Loyalty means nothing to you intrinsically but if others think it is important then we decide it is important. We would rather agree with the generalized other then be correct.

Solomon Asch (1907 - 1996) did a study that showed this. There is one person that is the focus of the study. There are 2 other researchers disguised at subjects but have a scripted answer to this question:

“Which stick, A, B or C is the sam length as Exhibit 1?” The disguised researchers would give the wrong answer on purpose sometimes and the actual test subject would agree with the wrong answers from the disguised researchers up to 75% of the time. The study also found that the harder the question is the more the subject conformed to the incorrect answers. It was one of the original studies that showed why people seem to have individual thoughts on preference of fruit or vegetable we like, but with hard decisions like religion they just followed the group.

These kind of studies have been replicated hundred of times with all similar results. If we do not know the answer we take others opinions because it is ok to be wrong as long as we are still valuable to the “Generalized Other” (The community) because we survive as long as the rest of the community believes it. It is better to be wrong but a live then right and dead.

Another well documented concept is that by seeing ourselves do something against the generalized other we will conform more. This means that if you were to watch yourself do something against the community such as stealing then you are less likely to do it. A group of researchers rigged their doorbell to their phone so that when a kid came trick or treating at Halloween the phone would ring at the same time. The researcher would say

“ Oh that’s the phone, I have to take it, just take one piece of candy so others have some”

The researcher would run behind the wall and secretly spy on the kids. Some of them had a mirror in front of them and some didn’t. When the mirror was put in front of them they were less likely to steal the candy. The act of seeing yourself break the rule of the generalized other is enough to alter your behaviour. Not always but a large percentage.

Weird? Try this one out for fun. This study showed that people care more about living up to the ideals of the group (Generalized Other) then their own goals and aspirations.

“As you can see in Figure 12.11, “Research Results,” for low self-concept discrepancy participants, thinking about their ideal or ought selves did not much change their emotions. For high self-concept discrepancy participants, however, priming the ideal self-concept increased their sadness and dejection, whereas priming the ought self-concept increased their anxiety and agitation. These results are consistent with the idea that discrepancies between the ideal and the actual self lead us to experience sadness, dissatisfaction, and other depression-related emotions, whereas discrepancies between the actual and ought self are more likely to lead to fear, worry, tension, and other anxiety-related emotions.”

So what the researchers did was work with the subjects and found that by not living up the expectations of others (Generalized Other) we get anxious and agitated. But when we do not living up to our ideal self, such as goals and ambitions we simply get sad which is not as strong of an emotion. It shows that people are more worried about fitting in to the rules of the community then they are about their own dreams and goals.

So the case has been made from different angles that humans only care about fitting in for survival purposes and our goals, dreams and ambitions are secondary. So why wouldn’t every kid simply do the conditioning?

The answer is unflattering. The truth is that kids do the conditioning a lot and the fact they even did 8 reps in the first place is a strong indicator that they fear getting kicked out of the group. ie. the gym. So maybe they wont get 10 but that is ok because you are still getting 80% of the results. Can’t win them all.

But why not 10/10? This is because we have a conflict in our brain