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  • Jo Clubb

Mini: Signalling

Signalling is a powerful tool in our campaign to gain athlete buy-in. Humans’ actions provide a form of feedback that can be influential on the actions of others. This counts just as much for athletes with their teammates.

While signalling happens naturally, perhaps it can be enhanced by practitioners. If we can create opportunities for model behaviours to be frequently observed by the wider group, we can reinforce the feedback that these behaviours are important and worthwhile to performance. In a sense, we want to design an environment that puts these model behaviours in the “shop window”.

In Farnam Street’s Great Mental Models Volume 3, the effects of signalling as a type of feedback loop is discussed. Examples include how restauranteurs harness signalling by seating early customers by the windows, and how a street performer will prolong their performance, allowing a bigger crowd to draw and signal to passers-by that this is worth stopping for.

This book also quotes Ward Farnsworth, the Dean of the University of Texas School of Law, who explains how observing others creates an impression:

People draw inferences from what they see others doing and do the same; now even more people are doing it, and they create a still stronger impression on the next.” - Ward Farnsworth

Thus, a prevailing way to gain buy-in is by allowing others to signal their buy-in. There are many potential methods to achieving this. If your athletes carry out individualised prehabilitation exercises prior to the training session, these should ideally be carried out where they can be seen by their teammates. Obviously, first and foremost, they need to be conducted in a manner most appropriate to the goals of the exercise, considering both precision and practicality of the programme. If, however, this can be set up in an area with a consistent footfall, it can signal to others that they too should be incorporating such work into their own routines. These signals can be even more powerful if they come from an influential athlete.

This is, in part, why the design of your facility is critical. Opportunities for signalling can be innately constructed via the architecture of the weight room, medical/training room, recovery facilities, and ultimately, the intentionally designed thoroughfare of the athletes. However, the bricks and mortar of the facility may (for now) be an unmodifiable factor in your setting. So, any time something is set up, be it a prehab session, recovery area, or nutrition station, for example, consider how you can deliberately harness the power of signalling to attract others.

Just like the restauranteur and the street performer, we are salespeople. In our case, (hopefully) selling evidence-based practice. By giving publicity to our sales, via signalling, we garner interest and potentially increase “sales” in the future.