By Aaron Boe, Speaker & Trainer
Developer of The Complete Strength Programs for Athletes
The New Addition To Sports Science
The Chains Method is a psychology-based approach that helps you optimize your ability to influence behavior and develop men.
Think of it as sports psychology for strengthening character and culture.
You Are Needed
We all know that today’s young men are in a complex world.
- Negative influences from friends (or family)
- Relationship issues & Social distractions
- Academic challenges
- Temptations and pulls from different directions
- Smartphones and social media
There is no one better positioned to dramatically shift the trajectory of a young man’s life than his coach. As a coach, you have extraordinary access to the minds and hearts of young men.
But young men need more than good advice and reminders of rules. The challenges young men face are too complicated for simple solutions. And most adults are unsure of what more to do.
The Master Blacksmith Analogy
For centuries, the blacksmith made a metal chain one link at a time. The better blacksmiths could recognize which links might be weaker before sending it out for use. This allowed them to strengthen or replace them, preventing the serious problems that would occur from a broken chain.
As a coach, you can be like the master blacksmith. You can strengthen the weaker links in the minds of the young men you coach. And this will prevent serious off-the-field problems and equip men for better lives.
As a huge bonus, The Chains Method can help you strengthen your program’s culture for on-the-field performance as well.
The Problem With Rules & Good Advice
Some people rely on platitudes and threats of punishment to influence behavior. Rules and good advice are part of the picture, but we know from history they are not enough.
Here’s why we have seen so many problem behaviors like sexual misconduct, abusive actions, and other surprising behavior persist despite strict rules and increased awareness. Those young men were given good advice and rules too, but their underlying “weaker links” were left in place. Typical training and good advice do not reach deep enough to shift a few key underlying mentalities. (Most harmful behavior is not committed by a pathological person; it’s an otherwise decent person who rationalizes their behavior).
With weaker links left as they were, even an otherwise decent young man can lack the “moral toughness” and decision strengths to navigate his social life, relationships and other areas of life off the field.
As a coach, failure to reach the right points of leverage for influence not only puts your program at risk, it also puts your players at risk of behavior that will harm others and derail their lives.
Five Steps To Using The Chains Method To Craft Character & Prevent Problems
1st Understand How Good Kids Can Be At Risk Of Bad Actions
To both understand behavior and have a better strategy to influence it, I developed The Chains Method to put a lot of science into a simple framework.
Think of a metal chain having a few weaker links. A slight difference in mentality is like a weaker link on a chain. We know that in football, a small difference in mentality or “weak link” can result in blown assignments, turnovers and avoidable losses. Differences in mentality off the field can cause much larger issues.
Just like a good player can lack mental toughness, a good young man can lack moral toughness.
But coaches can do something about that…
2nd Think Of Each Player Having Chain Links Of Thinking & Attitudes
Coaches usually think of “the weaker link” in terms of the weakest player on their team. Instead, think in terms of every player’s thinking being a chain that could have some weaker links in it.
3rd See That Strengthening Weaker Links Can Strengthen Character, Behavior And Culture
These weaker links in thinking are problems, but they are also tremendous opportunities. If you know where the weaker links are, you can strengthen the chain and prevent it from breaking.
Focusing on the weaker links is important because even if a player is a high-character person, his mentality in a certain area could mean he’s still at risk of rationalizing bad actions.
4th Recognize The Weaker Links
Here is what science says are the disconnects that happen when people make bad decisions or fall short of strong standards.
- Compare to Feel Better – People compare with worse to make their actions seem better/not as bad as “that”
- Blaming – People blame someone or something else for their behavior
- Minimizing or Denying Harm – People minimize, ignore or deny the harmful effects of their actions or words
- Responsibility Errors & Excuses – People feel less personally responsible for their choices than they are
- Justifying – Rationalizing that their action is somehow a good thing, rather than unhealthy, harmful or high-risk
- Devaluing certain types of people – Despite treating many people with respect, some can devalue certain people and not feel wrong for mistreating them even when they claim to believe in treating all people with respect.
- Denial of Need to Change – People think of themselves as good, so they see typical programs on serious issues are not relevant to them. They think, “I’m a good person, so this isn’t relevant to me.”
These seven mentalities can work in combination with each other and in different ways with different issues.
There are other weaker links of thinking, but these are the ones that lead to justifying unethical and immoral behavior.
You probably have encountered many of these throughout your life and career.
Here are some examples of how weaker links can play out, both on and off the field:
- Infecting others with negative attitudes
- Blaming the coach for how he feels, so he feels the coach is responsible for his actions of spreading his toxic attitude
- Cutting corners in workouts
- Rationalizing that it’s just a small difference so it doesn’t matter. It’s not like he’s skipping the workout or doing something worse.
- Pulling a teammate off course with a bad idea outside of practice
- Rationalizing that his teammate is responsible for going along with it, rather than owning his responsibility to not pull a teammate off course.
Off the Field Examples
- Mistreating a partner when angry
- Blaming the other person for his actions, comparing his actions with something worse to feel better about them, telling himself his partner deserved it
- Recording video of a sexual encounter when the other person doesn’t know they’re being recorded
- Ignoring the harm it could cause, comparing it with physical violence to feel better about the “non-violent” violation of trust
- Assuming programs and conversations on serious issues area not relevant to him or his teammates
- Comparing the most extreme types of abusive or violent behavior with how he perceives himself and his teammates as good people. The obvious difference creates defensiveness or apathy rather than reflection and critical thinking.
- Engaging in a sexual act with a person who is unable to know what is going on or is unconscious
- Comparing it with forcible violence or more extreme acts to minimize the perception of harm
These Weaker Links are human tendencies that explain why the risk of problem behavior is higher than many people assume.
5th Counter The Weaker Link Tendencies To Prevent Problems & Strengthen Character
The Chains Method helps coaches focus on the deepest level of influencing behavior, and here are five simple strategies for proactively strengthening the weaker links.
- Listen For Weaker Links In Attitudes
Hearing a weaker link comment, such as a player blaming someone else for his actions, can be a teachable moment.
It doesn’t require preaching; it requires clarifying the truth that we are responsible for our actions even if we are angry, jealous or in a difficult circumstance.
- Teach Them To Recognize Their Own Rationalizations
I’m grateful that when I was in college, someone taught me to think of rationalizations as “rational lies.” They are ways we lie to ourselves that sound rational if we are not able to see the weaknesses in them. I could have used that guidance in high school!
More importantly, they taught me to recognize rationalizations.
Rationalizations and excuses often come to us in a handful of phrases:
- “It’s not like…”
- “It’s not my fault…”
- “It’s just…”
- “No one will find out…”
- “At least…”
Just like a young person can be taught to recognize whining, you can teach a player to recognize the internal thoughts that will weaken him if he doesn’t rise up and defeat those mental opponents.
- Proactively Counter The Responsibility Errors & Excuses
We tend to let ourselves off the hook of personal responsibility when circumstances get difficult.
Here’s an important distinction to remember: Most coaches talk about responsibility, but proactively countering errors and excuses requires coaches to go to a deeper level. Typical “responsibility talk” like “A man takes responsibility for his actions” and “No excuses” can be impactful for some, but they can become noise to others. If you give good advice or a reasonable rule, your players will nod in agreement. But that doesn’t mean they’ve made the connection at a deeper level.
Use The “Even If” Technique:
Think of challenging scenarios your players will face on and off the field, and use one of my favorite techniques, “Even if…”
- “Even if the most hated player on the other team is talking trash and won’t stop, what is the strongest and best way to handle that?” (Keep escalating the challenging scenarios to what would make anyone angry).
- “Even if an old friend texts you to go out with him when you need to study, how are you going to handle that? What is your responsibility, even if it’s the most tempting situation and he’s messing with you with guilt trips and won’t leave it alone?”
- “Even if you think your partner in a relationship is 100 percent wrong and you feel hurt, angry and jealous all at once, what do you need to be above – what is the stronger way to handle that emotionally difficult situation?”
Having players imagine challenging scenarios in advance and think through ways of handling each one can build true buy-in on higher standards. And buy-in on higher standards is what strengthens your culture and develops young men for better lives.
- Strengthen Links With The “You tell me…” Technique
Coaches can also develop stronger links by putting young men in the position of arguing for what is right. Challenge your players to come up with reasons why a certain standard is a better way to be as a person or as a player. There’s an old saying in sales, “If you say it, it’s your idea. If they say it, it’s their idea.”
Use “You tell me…” to build true buy-in and impact young men at a deeper level.
- “You tell me, why do you need to have a personal policy that you never cut corners in a workout – that you always push yourself?”
- “You tell me, what should you be above when using your smartphone, even if some of your friends think something is no big deal?”
- “You tell me, why is self-control and restraint a stronger way to be as a man, even if you’re angry, rather than taking advantage of your size over a partner in a relationship?”
- Culture Strength Can Help You With The Most Complex Issues
At Culture Strength, we understand that complex issues like sexual misconduct and abusive relationships are confusing.
Typical training from schools and campuses can struggle to connect with young men. And even well-received programs can fail to reach deep enough to influence behavior.
Our Complete Strength System of training and curriculum is the positive and proven way to connect on serious issues. We can help your players and your coaching staff with tailored training. And we can help your entire athletic department with programs for women’s teams as well as men’s.
To inquire about having our curriculum in your hands, or about bringing Aaron Boe or a Complete Strength Sports trainer to work with your team, coaching staff or athletic department, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About The Author:
Aaron Boe, M.S.Ed. is a national speaker and trainer who helps people have a more effective approach to developing their people and preventing negative behavior. He’s an award-winning author and the developer of award-winning programs. As a specialist in sexual assault and misconduct prevention, Aaron Boe is a pioneer in applying social science to optimize prevention of harmful behaviors. His developmental approach is revolutionizing compliance by allowing campuses to also develop their people and culture at the same time.
You can contact Aaron Boe directly at email@example.com