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Going Through The Motions

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

Social Loafing in Basketball

Psychologists define the phenomenon of social loafing as exerting less effort when working collectively. For example: a player will exert less effort in a team drill than an individual drill because they are relying on the rest of the team, which stems from the feeling that their efforts don’t make much of a difference. This is explains why teams are less productive than the combined performance of each individual.

When you’re going through the motions, you want to look like you’re doing what’s expected, but there’s no intentionality, deep down you don’t believe in what you’re doing. Here are just a few symptoms of social loafing:

Lack of enthusiasm.

Lack of energy.

Lack of engagement.

Doing the bare minimum.

Not making hustle plays.  

These may seem like obvious red flags, but it’s much harder to detect because it’s being done in a team setting, so the individual(s) often does this without being noticed.

The Cure

The cure of going through the motions is to believe in the significance of whatever you’re doing. Believe that your hard work will pay off in the end. In order to do so, you have to understand why you feel like what you’re doing is not important.

The Cause of Social Loafing

   A study was done in 2008 with 45 teams to help understand what climate leads an athlete to social loafing.

   Leadership is very important in coaching, and being a well-accepted concept, little attention has been paid to what behavior makes leadership more effective.

   There is a strong positive association between justice and leadership. Athletes’ perceived justice of the coach in outcomes and procedures predicts the team identification and cohesion.

   The purpose of this study was to test whether the relation between coaches’ justice and players’ team identification is mediated by a motivational climate. The coach creates the motivational climate which is responsible for a lot of the teams’ success. This study wanted to study the effect of the coaches’ justice has on reducing social loafing to increase performance.

   When an athlete identifies with the team, the norms and behavior of the group are internalized in favor of the welfare of the group. Leaders can shape identification by shaping the social environment that their team operates in. The culture will influence the social identification of each member. Ideally, each team player identifies more as a team member than an individual.

   In order to be considered a fair coach, it is expected that coaches make objective decisions. When players believe they will get what they deserve if they work hard, they are more likely to do so. Fairly treated people are more willing to sacrifice for a group.

   There are two different climates that were explained in this study: mastery climate and performance climate. A performance climate consists of favoritism and unfair behavior which promotes intra-team rivalries. This is detrimental for groups because there is no sense of team identification. A mastery climate consists of each team member being willing to contribute to the team’s interest while supporting the learning process each member of the group. When coaches foster this culture, athletes will be more inclined to focus more on the long term improvement of their own skills, instead of rivalry with teammates, this promotes a sense of team identification.

   The first hypothesis is formed around the idea that as fair coaches decrease players’ perceptions of a performance climate, team identification increases. The hypothesis were: a) Athletes’ perceived justice of a coach is positively related to mastery climate, which in turn is positively related to to athletes’ team identification and b) Athletes’ perceived justice of the coach is negatively related to a performance climate, which in turn is negatively related to athletes’ team identification. Which is to say, coaches who are unbiased, and promote long-term mastery increase the identity in belonging to a group.

As stated in the article, “Findings indicate that people who expect their teammates to loaf, reduce their own efforts to make the labor equal” (p. 10, Jackson & Harkins, 1985). However, as stated in the article, “When individuals view themselves as primarily part of a team where they are interchangeable, social loafing is eliminated.” (p. 11, Harlem 2004). Therefore, team cohesion is a logical solution to social loafing.

Perception of a shared team identification leads to intra-group cohesion. Task cohesion, such as relays and individual goals, plays a crucial role in eliminating social loafing.

This study found that when an athlete perceived their coach as fair, it was because the coach had established a mastery climate, which made the athlete have more of a team identity (less focused on individuality or favoritism). The amount of team identification then predicted social loafing. Essentially, the more team oriented an individual is, the less likely they are to slack off.

There is a connection between mastery climate and how fair athletes perceive their coaches to be. There is also a connection between team identification and social loafing.

Action Steps


1. Create a mastery climate

-Reward progress and learning more than you reward the results. For example, instead of praising the player who scored the most points or had the most rebounds, praise the preparation that went into that (staying after practice to shoot and hitting the weight room).

2. Over-communicate fairness

-Get in the habit of saying “is that fair?” and welcome your players to weigh in. In any scenario where a player thinks they are being treated unfairly, explain and discuss it openly to get everyone on the same page.

   3. Be team oriented

-Teams that believe everyone is interchangeable, don’t have the problem of players who go through the motions. They each understand everyone is important because the coach shows no favoritism.


1. Focus on the process

-You might not be where you want to be or performing how you want to perform, but you must stay committed to progressing. Believe your hard work will pay off in the long run.

2. Weigh in, then buy in

-Your coaches have the same goals as you. They want to win, and they want you to be successful. If you have questions about the way they do something, ask! Coaches love when players come in their office to have discussions. Try your best to get on the same page as them.

-Effort is priceless. Commit to going all in every time. Do whatever task is at hand to the best of your abilities.

3. Put the team first

-It’s not about you. No matter who you are, it has to be about the team. Always do what is best for the team.


Written By: Julie Fournier

Founder & CEO

Basketball is Psychology™️



References De Backer, M., Boen, F., De Cuyper, B., Hoigaard, R., & Vande Broek, G. (2014, July 7).         A Team Fares Well With a Fair Coach: Predictors of social loafing in interactive female sport teams. Retrieved February 21, 2018, from Journal of Medicine &atitle=A team fares well with a fair coach%3a Predictors of social loafing in interactive female sport teams.&aulast=De Backer%2c M.&id=DOI%3a10.1111%2fsms.12303&site=ftf-live

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