1/26/2016 0 Comments
by Chris Foss
In recent weeks, Keith has made the argument that sports very often hinges on luck, even more than practice and preparation. Whether or not it comes down to luck, I argue that, particularly in the NFL, it comes down to one play or a short sequence of plays that decisively swings momentum—“the big mo.” My analogy for analyzing NFL momentum shifts in this two-part series is, if you will, animalistic. I’ll start by looking at the five biggest “goats” and then next time the five “GOATs”. Later this year, I’ll do the same for the NBA as the playoffs start to heat up.
This week, I unveil what I believe to be the five big chokes, goats, worst plays, whatever you want to call them, that ended up costing teams games. The decisiveness of the play, the level of stupidity or mistake-making, and the magnitude of the game are all taken into account. A Week 1 goat, no matter how dramatic, won’t make the list. The referees who blew the Seattle-Green Bay game in 2012 don’t make the list—that was a Week 3 game that did not have a ton of bearing on the season. To paraphrase Shaq, I make my picks count. Here they are, accompanied by video and a little bit of analysis. Let me know what you think—agree, disagree, does it bring back bad memories of your team blowing a big one?
by Keith Aksel
In this series, I’ve tried to show that luck determines outcomes more often than most are willing to admit. Luck happens in sports in ways that may or may not look like “lucky” breaks. From officiating to an athlete’s skill, what determines a contest’s outcome usually has something to do with factors outside the control of athletes or coaches.
In reality, these are only a few examples of a much bigger picture of how luck determines outcomes. For example, how do we explain the performance of one’s opponent? We often see perceived “lesser” teams come out victorious in a contest simply due to underperformance of a normally higher performing team. How else does one of the NBA’s worst teams, the Milwaukee Bucks, beat the NBA’s best team, the Golden State Warriors, earlier this season? The Warriors have nailed over 40% of their three-pointers this season, but were only able to hit 26% against the Bucks on December 12th. It is possible that the Bucks played great defense that night, but it was more likely that the Warriors had an off night, a lucky break for the Bucks. Teams under or over perform, regardless of the ability or effort of their opponents. This is simple luck; all athletes have times they woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and nothing they tried worked. That night this past December was one of those times.
by Keith Aksel
In this series’ previous article, I argued that luck is a more influential factor in determining sports outcomes than most are willing to admit. Luck comes in forms familiar to fans, like injuries and officiating moves that arise totally out of the control of the teams or athletes involved. But, luck also comes in forms not usually seen as uncontrollable by observers. One of those forms is athletic skill.
One of the most commonly-mistaken perspectives in sports is that skill is somehow unrelated to luck. In the world of sports and motivational writing, we see the “luck vs. skill” dualism discussed as if they were somehow opposites on a spectrum. I argue that skills in sports are traits due in equal parts to luck and controllable factors. The point to this article is that tougher training regimens, more effort, and dedication are not the most important keys to building an athlete’s skill. Rather, one’s skill is firstly predicated on some level of genetic luck that an athlete then builds on with their own effort. Certainly, years of training can refine one’s abilities, but one does not simply work their way into superstardom. Otherwise, we would have seen Rudy Ruettiger as an All-American. God-given ability matters.
by Keith Aksel
Last week we introduced a series arguing that luck has at least as much to do with determining sports outcomes as controllable factors. In part two of the series, we discuss what luck actually looks like in sports. Luck rears its head all across the sports world in both big and small ways. As I dig deeper into what makes up luck in the coming articles, it is important to first discuss what isn’t luck. Factors that are not luck-based are any factors under a player or team’s control. Effort, preparation, game plans, strategy, coaching styles, and the motivational techniques used by a coach or athlete all qualify as controllable factors.
In academic circles, luck has been analyzed (like academics like to do) to seemingly no end. Some researchers have categorized luck in basic ways like identifying “good” vs. “bad” luck, while others have made more hair-splitting distinctions between “fortune” and “luck”. For our purposes, I define “luck” in sports as anything that the individual athlete or coach cannot fully control. Today’s article will profile two of the usual suspects in sports luck: injuries and overly-influential officiating. In both examples, beneficiaries of contests in which these factors occur cannot predict, prepare for, or encourage these things to happen on their own power. But, the long term effects of that luck are deterministic.