Peer pressure is often viewed automatically as a negative: It’s shown in TV shows, movies, and books as what the ‘bad kids’ do in order to convince ‘good kids’ to break the rules. But in the right contexts, peer pressure can be a leadership tool that’s used for positive outcomes.
Board-certified family physician and TrueSport Expert Deborah Gilboa, MD, specializes in youth development and knows that young athletes flourish when allowed to take on leadership roles, but she also points out that coaches still have a pivotal part to play in developing effective and positive leaders.
Below, Gilboa explains how to use your team’s social dynamics to improve and strengthen relationships and teamwork.
Peer Pressure is Inherently Neutral
“Peer pressure isn’t inherently positive or negative,” says Gilboa. “It’s leadership: Kindergarten teachers use peer pressure all the time. They say, 'I like how Tommy is sitting on his square and waiting patiently with his hands in his lap, and then all of the other kids go sit quietly with their hands in their lap, thinking 'Notice me next!’”
This is the same reason that parents prefer their children hang out with friends with good habits. "Every time we put our kids into a study group, onto a team, or into an extracurricular activity, it's because we recognize the power of social bonding to influence kids' behavior,” she adds.
Create Leadership Opportunities
Harnessing that positive peer pressure as a coach means focusing on the current team dynamics and using ‘social mapping.’ Social mapping—figuring out which athletes have the most social credibility and power—can help a coach decide who to put in charge of warm-up drills, who to ask to do demonstrations, or who can lead the team during a game.
Look for athletes who have that social power and who exemplify the behavior and attitude you want to see from everyone on the team. Encourage those athletes to lead.