Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the value of words

As I go forward with studying this new subject matter, I need to make terms and definitions for the different concepts I have and suspect exist.

Cognitive bias: a term used to describe an inaccuracy that occurs between our mental perception of events and the true reality that exists. Examples include refusing to accept certain evidence that contradicts an opinion.

Trigger: Something which alters the performance of an individual or team. Example: feeling insulted triggers a strong performance from Shaq. Feeling angry triggers a good performance from Kobe.

Dialed in on a team: Being dialed in on a team means that you are correctly following and predicting the highs and lows of their emotional readiness. You are understanding quickly if they have quit on a coach, are very motivated for a game, etc.

Where is the data?

I just read an article about the difficulty of determining the value of an NBA coach. Careful statistical analysis and recording of lots of data still makes it nearly impossible to gauge the effect of a coach.

Basketball as a sport is the least-quantifiable of the major sports. Baseball is the most easily quantifiable. It is made of of discreet steps and one-on-one confrontations between pitcher and batter.

But perhaps the problem isn't with the data, it is with people. We have a love for numbers, for quantifiable effects, for a head-to-head comparison between rivals to determine the worth of each component. But is this a cognitive bias?

A successful team is a synergy of 12 players, each with a different role, different skills, different physical attributes, and different number of minutes played. Also, only five players can play at a time, so mixing and matching of skills and suitability occurs. The coaches are required to find the right mix of players, playing time, and also fit it in to the context of the flow of the game. Lastly, their is the opponents team to consider, and how well the players on the floor work together to beat the opposing five players, who are also struggling to find their own right mix.

As one can tell, it gets messy fast. Things like personnel skills and human resources though are not quantifiable. It seems that a love of science and numbers frequently blinds people to the two different sides of our brain. One is mathematically inclined, the other is artistically inclined. A problem can have both a numbers side (shooting percentage, number of rebounds) and an artistic side (are these players working together well).

Jeff Van Gundy always struck me as a coach who had a strong affinity for the numbers and technical aspects but never had a clue as to the inter-personal, synergistic side of basketball. Phil Jackson strikes me as more of a coach who is best when he has really good players and figures out how to get them to work together and utilize their talents. I don't think his value is in reminding Kobe to block out or the proper technique. Its in provoking Kobe to want to block out. Jeff knows more about blocking out, but Jackson can get him to do it.

NBA players are a finished product by the time the arrive on the scene. You can't change a man's heart but you can certainly squash out the flame inside him.

Anyways, I think that judging the effect of a coach is more of a right-brain activity which can only be judged and discussed, but trying to quantify it is a laughable activity.

I also think that successful investors in sports are the only people truly qualified to give a valuable opinion on more qualitative judgements. They are paid to be right and punished if they are wrong.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rasheed Wallace

The Detroit Pistons are another type of team which I think is easily psychologically profiled. The trigger phrase in this case was one mentioned by former coach Larry Brown "I would never have thought that effort would be an issue with professionals".

This is a team which was very good but could also be very lackadaisical. Anyways, throughout the years I've watched the Pistons do very well and then lay an egg at times. Just recently they beat the Warriors in a very close game, the next day played the Lakers at the Staple Center and stomped them. Two days later they played Phoenix, a team which is worse than the Lakers, and were blown out. It might seem like the random vicissitudes of play, but I think there is something greater at work. The Pistons just proved to themselves again that they were a top team by beating the previously unbeaten Lakers. Then they played a team which they had beaten twice preivously by twenty points each time.

Certain players, when they are looking their best, let their guard down and then start losing. And they go through these highs and lows throughout the season and throughout their career.

Rasheed Wallace is one of those players. When he is looking his best he is due to relax.  Thats just who he is.

Also, I don't think back-to-back games are as difficult early in the season. The players are professional athletes and are well rested.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shaq Attack

Shaq is a player who is notorious for his effort. It ebbs and flows like the tides of the sea.

I can remember reading an interview where a teammate of his while on the Heat remarked that he knew whether they were going to win or lose any given day by how Shaq was warming up. If he was serious, they would win. If he was goofy and playing around, they were going to lose.

A lot of mid-level players remark about how the biggest adaptation they had to make was about being a business man and taking a serious approach every day. The most consistently successful team of the last decade, the Spurs, is considered to be boring to watch, methodical in approach, and difficult to beat (just ask Steve Nash).

So obviously ,if one could track Shaq's day to day emotional levels and figure out his psychological profile, it is possible to know his mood and anticipate how well he will play.

Likewise, Kobe is known around the league to play very well and hard when he is pissed off. Not that he ever takes a night off, but even he has different levels of effort.

The key to doing this is reading body language, figuring out some of these player's driving forces and what motivates them to do well.

Shaq has always been very prideful and considers himself one of the best players ever. When someone insults him to reponds with anger and effort.

Anyways, the purpose of this post is to detail the possibility of tracking certain players in the NBA and looking for triggers that will spark them to either over perform or under-perform in their next game or series of games.

Shaq is extremely athletic and superior to the other centers in the league. The player profile of someone who has more athleticism and strength is more susceptible to the highs and lows of emotional and energy strains because his performance is based on physical toil, rather than a jump shooter, or defensive specialist. Contrasted with Tim Duncan, who is basically really tall, and must focus every night on a repetoire of moves. So essentially, the players who success is based on athleticism will be the most susceptible.

East meets West

The differences between the East coast and the West coast are many. But what about those who travel between the two coasts? And then engage in athletic competitions?

Well, traveling from East to West isn't so bad because of the extra hours one gets from time zones. but sports teams traveling from the West coast to the East coast lose extra hours, which can throw off their circadian rhythm. It is well known that people perform their best athleticaly in the afternoon. Traveling from West to East may make an early afternoon game feel like a morning game.

Throw in the jet lag from a red eye flight and it becomes very tough to play as hard and well as one is capable of playing.

Rich Rodriguez and Michigan

Is the reason Rich Rodriguez is struggling so much because he has a system developed in West Virginia and he is trying to force Michigan to adapt to it? Could it be that his high speed, cutting, juking, sprinting offensive system isn't working because its too damn cold?

Now that I think about it, his team was doing well last year....until they playing in late November at Pitt...which was quite a cold game, and they scored only nine points. Interesting

The effect of last months weather: The butterfly effect

A theory I've been developing with regards to football performances is one of the weather. It has long been known that warm-weather dome teams suffer in the NFL when playing post-season games in the frigid cold. The snow, the freezing rain, the sub-zero temperatures effect their performances in ways that aren't easily quantified, but affect the outcome of the game.

Yet this topic is never discussed in college football. The college football scene is broken up into conferences, each conference representing a geographic area with roughly similiar climes. The Pac-1o and SEC have different weather than the Big Ten, as the biggest contrast.

But when one looks at bowl game performances, especially most recently, the Big Ten has been struggling playing warm weather teams in warm weather stadiums. Especially in deep winter, when the teams have been practicing in the cold and fly down for a bowl game.

OSU has seemed to lack the explosiveness, speed, and physicality necessary to compete. But when they go north and fight their intra-conference rivals they dominate. OSU is a prime example of the weather phenomenon. Because of their success they have travelled to face top opponents in different environments, different seasons. And as such they are a great example of what happens when good teams play in different environments than that which they practice and live in.

I think that living, practicing, and playing in the cold weather conditions the human body and that conditioning is not conducive to athletic success. But when OSU plays their intraconference opponents the effect is cancelled out, and their coaching, strength and recruiting advantages play out and they win. But when they have to play their peers (USC, LSU, Florida, Texas) in the warm weather they can struggle.

This incremental effect on their muscles, their stretching, their balance (mud vs. turf), etc., amplifies over time to create this major difference. Thats why it is amazing OSU beat Miami back in '01.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Mike Singletary Era

The Mike Singletary era is upon us for 49er fans.  He preaches physicality, effort, motivation, physicality, and physicality.  The best example of this can be seen in their drive at the end of the first half, when the  49ers faced 3rd and 12 in their own territory.  They called a designed run for the quarterback.  J.T. Hill was hit a few yards short, had his helmet ripped off, and then dove for the first down.  Later in the drive he connected with Vernon Davis (#85) for a touchdown.  San Francisco led 21-13 at the half.  

They ended up losing to the better team (the cardinals) but the statement was made.  And Singletary's philosophy is one of physicality, which resonates in the NFL.  There are enough athletes all around to supply every team.  There are so many college athletes, semi-pros, practice team players, NFL Europe, etc., that the difference between players is small.  

So what makes the difference?  Motivation and effort.  Which manifests itself mostly through physical play and practice preparation/weight room time.  

But mostly through inspired physical play.  Its also in San Francisco's favor that his message is hitting the troops half way through the season, renewing his emphasis at a time when other teams are lagging as they get burned out.  Like the Browns, who allegedly quit on their own team during the loss to the Broncos.  

There was also the question of poor time management at the end of the game.  Well, you win some you lose some.  Only the most elite coaches can do everything.  

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Are the NY Giants peaking too early?

The NY Giants have been in Super Bowl form for nine games now. And dating back to last season, its up to about 17 games. They're approaching the limit for a group of humans to perform at their peak. So as the season winds down we should see the Giants stumble down the stretch and then burn out during the playoffs. We've seen this before with the Colts, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, etc. So thats a prediction for these playoffs.

That the Giants have peaked too early, and the reason I think so is that they've been strong for too long, and they are approaching a limit innate in humanity.

Thats a topic I want to expound upon. Not only cognitive biases, but the ability of humans to exert sustained physical effort superior to peers.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Love Spoo so much

Hi spoo,
just wanted to say that I love you so much. you've made me so much happier and given me so much hope that I can find peace and happiness in this sometimes glorious, sometimes screwed up world that we live in. I hope you read this and know I love you with all my heart and want to spend every night with you for the rest of my life.

Are the lakers better this year?

The effect of having Andrew Bynum back is a real bonus for the Lakers. I've had many an experience on the basketball court where picking up a big man bumps everyone down a spot. In this case, Gasol goes to the four, Odom the three. This allows both men to comfortably play in their natural roles.

I think he will have a great effect on the team and they may be able to make a run for a number of years at the Championship.

I also don't think the Celtics will be able to win as many games because so much of their game depended defensive intensity, which is difficult for multi-millionaires to muster on a consistent basis once the "newness" factor wears off.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Everything in Houston's Favor?

I recently read an article on ESPN ( I think it was the daily dime) where the author wrote that Houston had everything going in its favor heading into the matchup with Boston. Houston was 3-0, and Boston had just lost by 16 points to the Pacers. I would counter that their 16 point loss was actually helpful to Boston and harmful to Houston.

How? The NBA season is long; Garnett has played over 1,000 regular season games now. They are the defending champs. Their challenge now is motivation. They will be attacked by every team, and their style of play (intense defense) requires 100 percent effort on the highest level of athletics. That is hard for a human to do, especially a team with so many miles on their legs.

Anyways, I found his claim rather disconcerting. When Houston was on a huge winning streak Boston took it as a challenge and really clamped down on them. They blew them out with a maximum effort performance. Had they beaten the Pacers with a fourth-quarter comeback, I would have thought Houston could win.