False Memories And The Importance Of Statistics

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For the last six or seven years, I haven’t spoken to my team after matches except for a couple of very rare occasions.  Previously I had given the traditional post match address, in which I had gone over our failures and successes and felt like I had done my job, as was expected of me.  The reason I stopped was that I noticed while reviewing the video and statistics the number of times I had been flat out wrong with a number of my statements**.  Either the situation did not happen as I remembered, or different players were involved or it happened at a different time of the match and wasn’t decisive at all.  That I learnt over time of a number of big time coaches, most notably José Mourinho, who did not speak to their teams after the match only confirmed to me that my thoughts on the matter were appropriate.

In the intervening years I have read in a number of areas that are not directly related to volleyball or coaching, following the Terry Pettit Principle (that I just invented).  One particularly interesting field that has attracted my attention has that of decision making and, in general, how we think, in books such as ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ and ‘How We Decide’.  In those books, I learnt about things such as the ‘confirmation bias’ (for an example, see my comment about Jose Mourinho above) and the greater value placed in the mind of events that take place more recently.  I found the last point very interesting in conjunction with the article and information about the German women’s coach who focuses most of his attention on the previous seven contacts of each of his players.  If the mind automatically overvalues the most recent contacts, wouldn’t broader perspective be better served by looking at the whole match, or at least a longer time period?  But I digress…

Through the TED Blog, I came across this story/study about false memories and the things that influence them.  One of the interesting findings in this study, is that people are more likely to develop / create false memories about people and ideologies they support (in the case of positive false memories) or oppose (in the case of negative false memories).  The reason proposed for this finding is that the false memories “… are congruent with a person’s preexisting attitudes and evaluations, in part because attitude-congruent false events promote feelings of recognition and familiarity.”  Or by my interpretation, false memories about things they like or dislike make people feel good.  This occurs in all fields, even volleyball.  I have found many occasions where people have ‘credited’ very specific events to people they like or don’t like that did not happen, and in many cases could not have happened, and can easily be proven false.

So the message is… don’t trust what you think you see or what you think you remember.

Video and statistics… are at least closer to the truth.

** And I stopped caring quite so much what I was expected to do, and concentrated more on doing a good job.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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One comment

  1. Definitely true! Several studies have shown coaches only recalls roughly 50% of the critical events in a match. Expert coaches also have the tendency to recall differences when in fact there weren’t any! There is also an issue with confirmation bias (we see what we want to see) and false memories. Thus, we have the field of performance analysis where we objectively record performance (statistics and video) so those responsible can make informed decisions to enhance performance.

    Some of the studies I was talking about:
    Franks, I.M. (1993) ‘The effects of experience on the detection and location of performance differences in a gymnastic technique’, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 64: 227-31

    Franks, I.M. and Miller, G. (1991) ‘Training coaches to observe and remember’, Journal of Sports Sciences, 9: 285-97

    Laird, P. and Waters, L. (2008) ‘Eye-witness recollection of sports coaches’, International Journal of Performance Analysis of Sport, 8(1): 76-84


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