Slippery slopes in programming, coach-athlete communications

While I'm not really sure the logic from a related field applies specifically to our experience as lifters, I'm going to attempt to make a jump. Research may already or may bear this out in the future, or may not! I was reading Sapolsky's Behave again and came across a section on the so-called 'broken-window effect', where areas of cities with small signs of crime and disrepair see larger rates of larger crimes. In a few large-scale tests, zero tolerance rules to minor infractions of the rules ended up having downstream effects that reduced the rates of larger crimes. 

The underlying idea is that if you see signs of disrepair or crime, you're more likely to break the rules yourself because there's a background that it's okay, that it's normal. More concretely, this was shown in New York City in the 1990s, where a reduction in small rule breaks led to a steep drop in rates of serious crime. This was repeated in Lowell, Massachusetts where an experiment was run on just a single area of the city, and finally shown again in more specific case studies in the Netherlands. "When bicycles were chained to a fence (despite a sign forbidding it), people were more likely to take a shortcut through a gap in the fence (despite a sign forbidding it); people littered more when walls were graffitied; people were more likely to steal a five-euro note when litter was strewn around." It's as if the scene of degeneration paved the way to minor acts of breaking rules. Sapolsky notes the effect is large, in some cases doubling the rates of rule breaking. I'm sure there are bounds here; seeing a bike chained to a fence won't make you want to murder someone. It's about making acts seem more permissible when they aren't, increasing your already-present tendencies and desires. 

What I started thinking about was how this could apply to our little sport. If I skip my accessories one day or see my fellow coached athletes skip theirs, am I more likely to skip my own accessories, overload main lifts or go off program? Is it about the culture present in a lifting group enabling a behavior? And just like the experiments done in New York City and elsewhere, would a heavy-handed zero-tolerance policy on minor infractions to one's training approach drop the rate of athletes not following their training approach? 

How about athlete updates or response times. Do small lapses there on both a coach or an athlete's side lead to setting the scene for it being okay own the line, making the rule breaks the norm? Where else might we see this play out in sport and individual and team expectations? I imagine it might play a role in dietary and recovery modality adherence too. I'd be really interested in some experiments where zero tolerance policies on athlete reporting, completion of training, or some other quality we care about was enforced and observe if there's a difference in rates of similar but more severe behaviors in the future. 

I don't want to set up the idea here that our natural tendencies are toward misbehaving and breaking rules, and the only thing stopping us is a system of expectations and social pressures. Human behavior is complex, and this is just a single (potential) piece of the puzzle. But something to think about, anyway.  

Bryce LewisComment