We all love to make predictions. It doesn’t matter if its sport “Warriors will win easily tonight, they’ve too much talent” or life “They’re a perfect couple, they’ll be married within months”. Of course, in business and sport, we apply the same thought processes. What’s perhaps more interesting, is that we also tend to listen more to statements that are absolutes. People who take absolute stands on certain questions tend to be more appealing, whereas those who provide fewer clear answers are less appealing.
The Tetlock Phenomenon. In 2005, Philip Tetlock provided an interesting insight in his book Expert Political Judgement: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Based on many studies and years of research, Tetlock proposed that people who make predictions such as experts on TV or get quoted in newspaper articles are essentially no better than the rest of us. However, there is an important point – they are rarely held accountable, unlike those of use whose job relies on results, based on these decisions.
The truth is that we all yearn for certainty in business, life and sport. This is why we also love to align ourselves with people or things that present a decision or solution stated with certainty. These natural human urges have for the past 15 years fed the explosion in science and technology in sport. Fueled by marketing budgets, anecdotes and movies such as Moneyball, the perception was created that sports science and sports technology would provide a path to the land of certainty.
The False Promise. Only now is the sports community slowly realizing that this was a false promise. I say slowly because in many cases there have been huge investments in technology, people and science projects. No one wants to admit they have been wrong. No one wants to go back to the boss and admit that the investment they begged for a few years ago hasn’t delivered what they thought it would.
This is not to say that sports science doesn’t work. It will not deliver you to the promised land of certainty, but it can help when used properly. Sports science and technology won’t answer performance questions. Sports science does two things. First, with test or assessment results, it allows you to ask better questions, which will allow you to solve partial problems. Second, it gives you something invaluable and underrated – insight. Understanding this is critical to making your sports science program work properly and effectively.
Using your Dashboard. There is one final aspect to bear in mind. Science and technology are like the dashboard of your car. They provide signals and indications – confirmations if you will – that what you are doing is correct. They are necessary, but there’s a reason that self-driving cars haven’t been perfected yet.
Imagine that you are driving your car home from work. You might have driven this route many times. During the 10- to 15-minute drive, you will probably never look at your GPS, speedometer or fuel gauge. You know where the traffic lights are, you know upcoming corners and traffic hazards. You are familiar with the drive. You know instinctively the speed you are traveling at is safe. Your brain registers the frequency of passing stationary objects like trees. You drive in the gray.
On a new rout that you have never driven before, you will use more analytical feedback. You will use your GPS and check your speed and fuel gauge more often. You will still rely on instinct, but you will combine it with quantitative data. But you are always in control. Sport is a people business. Sports science and technology are your dashboard, but you are the decision-making element always in control. To make your sports science program effective, don’t look for certainty, use science and technology to make YOU better at making decisions.
Fergus Connolly, Ph. D. is the author of Game Changer the Art of Sports Science. He has served as Director of Elite Performance for the San Francisco 49ers, Sports Science Director with the Welsh Rugby Union and Performance Director for University of Michigan Football. For more information go to http://www.thegameischanging.net.