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Why Having Less Options Will Make Your Team Happier

posted by Coach Dawn Writes
Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 1:48am EDT

My blog is a place for coaches at all levels who are interested in building teams, motivating their student athletes, and coaching ideas that work. You won't find drills or job postings there, but you will find thoughts from a self-proclaimed coaching nerd who wants to help coaches and teams thrive.

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Do you ever go to a restaurant and after a few bites of your meal, wonder whether you should have gotten the steak instead of the fish?  This, according to Barry Schwartz’ TEDtalk, is called The Paradox of Choice.  The definition of paradox is “an opinion that conflicts with common belief”.  The common belief is that more choices will make us happier.  It turns out that is untrue.  The more choices we have, the more likely we are to experience regret, be paralyzed by the act of choosing, and to be unhappy with our choice.  Check it Schwartz’ talk for the nitty gritty information (it’s about nineteen minutes long), but here are the high points:

Summary of talk

  • More choices produce paralysis…people have much more difficulty choosing as options grow.
  • People experience more regret with more available choices.
  • Because we have so many options, we have high expectations…and we’re often let down.


How can we apply this information to our teams?

  • We should speak much more specifically to our players.  For example, instead of telling our captains we want them to be “great leaders”, we should define what leadership means to us.  Without the narrowing definition, our captains may think that you want them to lead by example, or be a vocal leader, or yell and scream at the team.  As you talk to your leaders about what being a great captain should look like, what you’re really doing is limiting their options.
  • We should define how we’ll manage off the court issues.  It seems the two most common ways to address these things are either to have a million rules…or none at all.  As Schwartz says in the talk, “more choice is better than none, but more choice is not necessarily better than some.”  The line between none and some may be different for all of us, but we’ve got to be more specific.  We think that having more choices gives them more freedom, and that freedom will make them more respectful.  Let’s have a few rules that everyone can remember, but not so many that they’re overwhelmed.
  • We should help our players practice limiting their own choices.  If you take them to a restaurant, limit their options by using a minimized menu or money limit.  Schwartz’ research showed that the lower the expectations, the higher the person’s satisfaction with their choice.  There are exceptions to the rule of course.  I wrote about a teammate of mine who didn’t like the choices we were given…and put her foot down in the legendary Battle of Baked Ziti.


This all makes sense to me, given the ridiculous amount of time it takes me to order food at a restaurant…I could stand a few less options.  This could be revolutionary information if we actually got it out there.  Then our players would know how to put themselves in position to be happy with their choices…on teams, with their friends, with their parents, in their relationships.  Happiness is within our control.

Want to hear more about choices and happiness? Read my post, The Secrets of Happy Teams.

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