Talking to The People: Why You Should Be Using Social Validation

Editor’s note: This article is a continuation of our series focused on communicating findings from peer-reviewed sports psychology research to the masses. At the end of the post, you can find additional information, including a link to the original research article. 

When analyzing a new strategy or intervention, teams, coaches, and researchers often look to the numbers. If the stats are better following a change, the presumption is that it was successful; the new defensive strategy, for example, worked and we can all celebrate a job well done. But sometimes statistics aren’t enough to understand the true impact of a change to an individual’s or team’s play.

An additional tool we can use to supplement the evaluation of sports-related interventions is social validation — direct feedback from the very people making the change. For anyone working with athletes, social validation is a necessity for understanding both our strategies and our team.

Social Validation?
According to a study from 2013 by Jenny Smith (Page) and Richard Thelwell, two researchers at University of Portsmouth, there are three general aspects of social validation:

These three components may address why a particular strategy did not work out for a team. If a team or athlete does not care about the intervention, finds what they are doing to be inappropriate, and/or don’t care about the results, the intervention is likely not going to be as effective as it could be. 
Drs. Page and Thelwell conducted a literature review of social validation in studies related to sports and exercise, and reached two broad conclusions. First, they found that the ways in which scholars have investigated social validation has been rather inconsistent. More encouraging, the authors suggested that this inconsistency should not stifle the use of social validation among practitioners and those who implement interventions, like coaches and team captains. Quite the contrary, Drs. Page and Thelwell suggest that using social validation can further support attempts to improve individual and team performance. 
When, Where, How?
Social validation can occur at any time throughout the intervention process — before, during, and/or after a strategy change has taken place. For example, let’s say a coach wants her basketball team to play more physically, by taking more fouls. Before instructing the team, the coach could survey the athletes to get their thoughts on the new strategy. As the team begins implementing the increased level of physical play, the survey could be implemented several more times. Getting this feedback from the athletes could provide an opportunity for the coach to adjust the physical play strategy as needed. Without this feedback, she might not know as well whether or not it was working.
According to Drs. Page and Thelwell, the bottom line is that using social validation can provide even more support, beyond the statistics, for the quality and effectiveness of and intervention or strategy change. So maybe the next time your beer league softball “coach” tells the team to stop swinging for the fences, you should ask these questions — they could determine whether or not popping out to the pitcher less frequently is helping the team.
The citation for the article on which this post is based is below: 
Page, J., & Thelwell, R. (2013). The value of social validation in single-case methods in sport and exercise psychology. Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, 25, 61-71.

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