Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sporting Overconfidence, Part 2

The second effect of overconfidence on the sports field is that people over-invest in the sport.

In other words, when you think you have high skill, the rewards to training are higher, because you could go on to be a superstar. And in truth, the extra training will be useful, as training always is. You will improve because you train heaps.

But the margin on which you'll make a mistake is that you'll overinvest in the sport relative to what else you could be doing with those hours - hanging out with your friends, learning Russian, snorting meth, whatever your chosen avocation is.

Unfortunately, this creates even worse effects when everyone else is overconfident too. When you know that all the other teams are likely to overinvest because they're overconfident, it means that you'll need to train that much harder in order to beat them. In other words, even if you aren't overconfident yourself, the only way to beat the other teams is to act as if you were overconfident.

Once again, behavioural economics comes to the rescue, with the sage of advice of 'Can't win, don't try, spend your time enjoying life instead'. Not exactly the stuff of inspirational speeches.

But sod it! There's more to life than winning on your six-a-side soccer tournament. How about just enjoying yourself?

The second obstacle to this is the team structure. The team captain is usually among the most psyched up about the team's chance. So you often get conversations like the following:

Captain: I was thinking we'd train three times a week. You guys agree, right?

Everyone else: *shuffle feet, don't want to be seen as the lazy one*.

It takes an unusually bold person to demand that everyone train less because they personally are lazy. But then the consensus answer is always more training, even if that's not what most people want.

If I were running things, I'd start out the first meeting with the following:

'Okay, I want everyone to write down on a piece of paper the number of hours per week they'd like this team to train, ranging from zero to five. We'll put all the pieces in a hat, then draw them out, and whatever is the median answer will be how much we'll train.'

And my team will probably get our butts kicked! But it won't matter, because we'll be doing other fun stuff and not viewing training as being a chore.

Did I mention I'd make a rotten team captain?

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