The significance of 3 C's for coaches and athletes: certainty, choice, and control

written by Erica Quam

I was biology major in college. I like to 'geek out' a bit and dive into some of the science behind our human behaviors.  It turns out...our brains are wired for certainty, choices, and control.

Certainty

The brain likes certainty. Whether we're playing solitaire, Sudoku or completing a crossword puzzle. How great does it feel when you 'win'? Your brain gets an instant reward. YES - that's the answer!

When you can't predict the outcome of a situation your brain feels out of control.

Think of how you feel when you finally get to meet a recruit who you've only talked with on the phone. You may have had 8 conversations with them. Yet, when you finally get to put a name with their face....your interaction changes. It's because you have more certainty about them. You might not have even been aware of the uncertainty until this point - yet there's a shift.

When you're doing something you're uncertain about - like taking over a new program, interviewing a new staff member, or following a new training plan - your brain feels a lot less certain. This can impact your emotions.

Uncertainty feels like a threat - sending the brain into fight or flight. 

Choice

Now, reflect back on a situation where you felt a lack of control.  Maybe you've been in a position where you were told exactly what to do and given no real responsibility. Or maybe you've had a boss gave you a big project or a new responsibility...and then micromanaged every detail. 

A sense of autonomy is a big driver of reward or threat. Stress you can’t escape or control can be highly destructive. People - in the exact same situation - who feel like they can escape and/or impact the outcome experience a significantly reduced amount of stress.
— David Rock

For me, it was when I had to do group projects in school. I had to get other people's input instead of having the autonomy of just doing it all myself. Sure it was more work...but...at least I got to make all the decisions and do things on my own timeline! 

What does this mean for coaches?

Work with your athletes and staff to empower them. Give them choices. Teach them how many choices they actually do have - on your team and in their lives. 

Control

There are times when we believe that things are happening to us - the victim mentality. When we adopt this world view, our emotions can get all tangled up and confused by situations.

For example: You're driving to work and running a little late for a meeting. You also just realized you left the document you needed for the meeting at home on the printer. The person driving the car in front of you is distracted and doesn't move forward - 'causing you' to miss the light. This REALLY pisses you off! Now you go into the meeting stressed because you're late, frazzled because you left your notes at home, and on the offensive - blaming the person in front of you for missing the light.

Sheesh. I would NOT want to be sitting next to you at that meeting!

When you're more aware of this tendency in yourself, you can practice choosing to look at things from a different perspective. You can step up and take responsibility. What does this mean? Responsibility actually means 'the ability to have a response'. So, you get to CHOOSE your response. You're actually in control! 

Let's look at the same situation from a different angle: You're driving to work and running a little late for a meeting. You also just realized you left the document you needed for the meeting at home on the printer. The person driving the car in front of you is distracted and doesn't move forward - and you miss the light. You decide to use the time waiting for the light to take some long deep breaths. You turn off the radio and enjoy a little piece and quiet - knowing that you're doing the best that you can right now. You walk into the meeting relaxed and offer a quick apology - saying you left the house a little later than you wanted. You smile at the person next to you as you sit down and ask if you can share their meeting notes. 

The idea of consciously choosing to see a situation differently is called "reappraisal." This can be a game-changer for coaches and athletes!

Imagine your highly sensitive athlete who always thinks that people are talking about her - and saying bad things. Maybe they are...yet how powerful would it be if she began to imagine them talking positively about her vs. negatively?

As a coach, when you see your athletes rolling their eyes and shaking their heads, what if you were able to interpret that as them displaying their disapproval at something that happened way before they came into practice - rather than assuming it's something you said?

It sounds easy in theory and much harder to put into practice. Your awareness is the most important first step!


Give one of these strategies a try this week and let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear your feedback! Share what you tried and the results you experienced in the comments below.


Interested in reading up on this topic? Check out, "Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock. Rock summarizes research about the brain's functions and limitations in a way you can actually understand! This book will also give you tangible steps to take to work with instead of against your brain.