Diffusion of Responsibility and BJJ

One of the fun, and fascinating things I find about jiu jitsu is you are able to see certain elements of social psychology in full effect, and really you couldn’t find a better sampling of the general population, at least in our academy: a group of people from all stages of life and from different social backgrounds, all under on roof and sharing their love for a sport.

One of these elements includes diffusion of responsibility. The technical definition, according to Wikipedia, is “sociopsychological phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present.”

Take this example: you go to an open mat your school is holding (even if they don’t have open mats, whatever, we’re pretending) and there are several students there of all sorts of ranks. Now let’s say you’ve been at this school for some time: you’ve made a few friends, and have a couple of guys or gals that you train with regularly. Partners pair off to roll, and you see there is one white belt sitting there- looking a little awkward, out of place and doesn’t have anyone to partner up with to train.

Diffusion of responsibility would mean that you would ignore this white belt, tell yourself that someone else will take care of them, will pick them and train. But, this is where diffusion of responsibility comes in: everyone else is thinking the same thing. Everyone else is under the impression that someone else at the open mat will pick this teammate, which then leads to the problem when no one steps forward to partner up with this student. Really this can happen at any level, I’m just using the example of the white belt since there is the likelihood that they would know less people and may by more timid than some higher belts, but again, this can happen at any level.

So how do we make sure that this doesn’t happen? No one wants to be the guy left out, and if enough students are ignored or left out enough times, they will leave-frustrated and feeling a little embarrassed. No one wants to the kid picked last in kickball, but it’s even worse to not be picked at all.

Well, first and foremost you now know about diffusion of responsibility- and I always feel that knowledge is power: you know this is a problem, and now you can do something about changing it.

So, now knowing this problem, I would encourage you to step forward and be the one who invites that white belt into a three man round-robin or something of that nature, when either rolling or even if you are just drilling, and if they are a much lower rank, go a little slower when drilling. They will appreciate it, you’ll still get your training and reps in, and will help someone feel more a part of your gym or academy. I say that’s a win all around. Or, you can do what our academy tends to do: students who would rather roll set up a rotation, so everyone gets to train with everyone, and can accommodate odd numbers, with a new person sitting out each time, rather than just one person not rolling the entire session. The main point is regardless of age, rank, etc. we all attend class because we love the sport. Go against this tendency, this diffusion of responsibility and invite a fellow student to join you. It may be a small gesture to you, but for them it could eventually mean the difference between staying at your gym and sharing the sport with you, or leaving frustrated and either moving to a different academy or just quitting all together.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Diffusion of Responsibility and BJJ

  1. Ooh! Thank you for explaining that! I know the term, but never put it into the reality of my BJJ experience. I get hurt when I’m picked last or not at all, and assume its because I’m a girl or am horrible. My coach always says that it’s up to me to put myself out there and not get left behind… This kind if shows me what he is trying to say. Maybe they’re just expecting someone else to pick me? In that case… I probably can and should be bucking up and asking for my own partners. Humph. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: January 14, 2014 | BJJ News

  3. Pingback: Diffusion of Responsibility and BJJ | A Skirt on the Mat | Savvy Combat

  4. People also pair this to the bystander effect and researchers claim that it can have a devastating effect in emergency situations. However, I believe the hierarchies (ranks) of BJJ organizations override this natural tendency to let others handle it, even in an open mat scenario. I will not speak in absolutes, however, senior belts (purple, brown and black) or instructors know it is their responsibility to guide the flock, open mat sessions included.

    Often studies in social science, especially ones that test these types of theories, are done with the assumption everyone is on equal footing and can assume leadership roles as needed. In a grappling academy, the pecking order is firmly entrenched and I believe this insures all get to play (or roll).
    If that doesn’t occur, it is hopeful that the friendliness that so many of us say exists in our clubs would help take care of anyone who fell through the cracks.
    JiuJitsu365- Author of Psychology of BJJ

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