In the recent past there has been a lot of research done into the way people think. Most famously it has been compiled into the book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman, which I can only highly recommend. At the heart of all of this research is that human beings do NOT think in the way the we think they think. There are a lot of tricks that our mind plays on us to interpret situations in certain ways. Among these tricks are cognitive biases. The most common referenced of these cognitive biases (at least by me) is ‘confirmation bias’. Confirmation bias is the particular trick our mind plays in which it preferentially processes information that confirms beliefs we already have. The most famous example of this in volleyball (at least to me) is the myth that there are more service errors after timeouts, which I have brought into question here, and will shortly attempt to completely debunk. Some coach in 1965 (maybe) thought that he saw more service errors after timeouts and every coach since then has had that bias confirmed by every single service error after a timeout while at the same time ignoring the good serves after timeouts. In general, every time you saw game statistics that surprised you, it was likely to have been a case of confirmation bias as someone played better or worse than you thought they had (or rather thought they would have).**
The recent book ‘This Is Your Brain On Sports’ looks at various sports related situations and attempts to explain them through these kinds of biases. One of the chapters talks of ‘effort justification’. This principle is that the more effort someone invests in a task, the more likely they are to stick it. The reason being that due to the effort put in, they value the goal more highly. For example an athlete who trained very hard is more likely to keep fighting for victory in difficult circumstances. This idea reminded me of the something of Bernardinho’s, that I think may well be the same thing; the idea of ‘deserving to win’. In Bernardinho’s version, a player or team invests a lot of energy into a task and will fight until the end thinking that he deserves it more than his opponent. In essence, the player having invested so much thinks ‘I deserve this, therefore I will make the extra effort to win’. Effort justification suggests that the same player or team actually thinks ‘I’ve invested all this effort, this goal must be something very special, therefore I will make the extra effort to win!’
I can’t help but think this is a distinction without a difference but it does emphasise that the benefit of hard work and commitment has deeper effects than the purely physically. And that coaches understand a lot about how people work.
**This reminds me of the story of the coach who accused an assistant of doctoring statistics because a player’s reception statistics seemed to show the player in question was actually a good receiver. This did not confirm the coach’s previously held belief, so the only obvious conclusion was that the assistant was part of a conspiracy.
The collection of Coaching Tips can be found here.
Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.
Great post and I’m a bit fan of Thinking Fast and Slow too. The Effort Justification principle sounds a lot like the ‘Sunk Cost’ cognitive bias
According to Wikipedia it is actually a cognitive dissonance. But I think ‘mind playing tricks’ covers it pretty well.