If You Miss One Shot, You’ll Miss the Next Shot… Right? (Wrong!)
In sport we talk a lot about having a good or having a bad game. It’s the belief that a player who hits a few shots in a row is more likely to hit their next shot (that’s a hot streak). Or the belief that a player who miss a few shots in a row is more likely to miss their next shot (that’s a cold streak).
If we’re on a hot streak, nothing can stop us. And if we’re on a cold streak, nothing can save us.
Statistically speaking, there’s no such thing as a hot or a cold streak. Researchers from Cornell and Stanford dispelled that myth in 1985 with a landmark paper with cold hard facts: The Hot Hand in Basketball, Cognitive Psychology.
There conclusion: if you miss one shot, you’re just as likely to make the next shot
They came to this conclusion by examining field goal statistics from the NFL Philadelphia 76ers. What did the data tell them? A player who misses a field goal, is just as likely to hit their next field goal. There is no correlation between missing a single shot, and making the next shot. In fact the sequences of makes and misses are indistinguishable from the sequences of heads and tails you would expect from flipping a coin repeatedly.
Worried there would be a lot of push back to their findings, they decided to look also at free throw statistics from the Boston Celtics. Free throws, after all, have little interference and are completely under a player’s control. The data this time? It too debunked the theory of hot and cold streaks. There were no links between hitting or missing the 1st free throw, and hitting or missing the 2nd free throw.
Both players and coaches are guilty of falling into the belief of being hot and on-form, sometimes even stubbornly so. Arguing over the art of sport (not the science) and team spirit and belief can win a game by gaining momentum. The power of the hot hand fallacy became a cultural meme. From financial investing to video gaming, the idea that momentum could exist in human performance came to be viewed as incorrect by default.
THE HOT HAND RISES AGAIN?
The oringal study was made over 30 years ago, as we know science doesn’t stand still for very long. With ever improving accuracy of measuring data and the ability to analysis large data (big data) sections from real-time, real-world environments, allows us to get new results from the same studies, this helps modern science fix many older theories potential wronged by bias or even by something like the the McNamara fallacy.
So this study from over 30 years ago divided the sample shots into those that followed streaks of three makes, and streaks of three misses, and then compared the percentages across these categories there was only a 3% difference in success. But by measuring the results of only one shot after a series of make, make, make or miss, miss, miss means the researchers are only measuring 1/4 of all shots taken. That is a lot of data unaccounted for due to measurement error and bias.
So, with new research available with the use of big data the NBA has actually been able to show an 11% point boost in shooting when on a make-streak. This is not negligible as by counting all shots in all games, all the makes and all the misses, it is easy to say who had a good game and who had a bad game. In doing so we move from the older study of a 3% difference to a 11% difference. You might say that this is also not a big difference, but it is roughly the percentage difference between the average and the very best 3-point shooter in the NBA. Thus, in contrast with what was originally found, this new data reveals a substantial and statistical significant.
Does this mean that coaches, players and fans are right all along? It’s OK to believe in the hot hand. While, perhaps you shouldn’t get too carried away believing in the magic and mystery of momentum in basketball and life in general.
What does that mean for you
I believe sport is complex and thus, everything is influenced by everything. The question, is it about positive influences that make you better, or only negative influences that make you worse? Until a couple of years ago, probably like most younger coaches. I would have believed there were things that can positively influence and motivate you to be better. Maybe it was mostly youthful hope and naïve positivity
It is good to be positive and believe you can always play better, than what you are currently performing. The issue comes that most athletes think they can flip a switch and push that 10% more. If you are just warming up at 50-60% then yes. If you are in the middle of a hard fought match though I don’t believe it is just about pushing and wanting more. In fact, from this position in a game if I was a betting man, I would guess players try to push 10% more by being more aggressive with the ball. Leading to a couple more points, but more likely leading to more errors. While at the same time decreasing the ability to see and read the game, as they get tunnel-vision regarding their new found attack mentality.
These days my thinking around this has changed due to some interesting reading, quotes and seeing these this happen more and reflecting better on them than my younger self would have.
Some readings are from Mark Lebedew „thinking about motivation„. He talks about players arriving for training and matches by saying „what if every player already has motivation when they arrive. And what if the coach’s contribution to a player’s motivation level is not what they add or cultivate, but what they subtract or destroy. In this understanding, players with high motivation are actually those whose coaches have not demotivated them. There are many, many coach’s actions that demotivate players; overtraining, playing favourites, excessive rules, ignoring injuries, pointless drills, disorganised, unplanned practices, excessive pressure and stress, inconsistent demands, unclear or unrealistic goal setting etc etc.“
This thinking starts to brings us away from the magic and mystery of momentum and being on a hot streak. To something more closely related to what we spoke about before here on the TimeOut beach blog in „How to Get Into the Zone“. As we talk about being in a state of flow to perform at your best. Flow is achieved by the demand being placed on the athlete finding that sweet spot in relation to their playing ability. Once that is found it can feel almost like being on auto-pilot. For me all this suggests that a hot-streak or being in-form is more linked to stopping outside things from negatively influencing you, rather than being your best because of positive influences
You are 100% you
You always have the potential to play your best game, but other influences stop you from achieving it. So rather than thinking about being you + pushing 10% more. Think of it as, you are always you, but other factors take away from what your 100% is. For example
- -10% didn’t eat enough during the day
- -5% playing with a new partner
- -15% playing against a fast defence player (and you like to play shots) OR playing against a big blocker (and you like to attack a lot)
This list can go on into your many factors of environment, did you lose the 1st set? is it windy? you had a bad day at work? which again links back to our blog on „How to build your System„.
It is possible for david to beat goliath, but not on an equal playing field. The reason underdogs win and its not though sheer want and will to win (as there a small line between want/will and desperation). But it is making sure your system works and what you do takes creates negative influence on the opponents (especially when your underdog). So on an even playing field that would mean in straight comparison the favourites are 150% to your 100%. You 1st goal should be to bring them down to below your level. So, If they are a great attacking team and you have small blockers, then you have to serve well to keep them off the net then that could reward you with for example -30% in their attack performance ect.
Although, one tactic probably isn’t enough to influence another team to be so much worse, and don’t forget they will be trying to do the same to you. So what should you try to do then when your behind and losing. Rather than just push with desperation, try figure out what is stopping you from being you. And if you can remove that negative influence on your side, then you be closer to your 100% on the court.
For me, if you winning a game without having to push, you feel good and do what you want to do (this is in-form for me). If you are having to fight and change from hitting line shots (your favourite), to having to attack hard cross (not your biggest strength) and you find the win because of this (this is class for me). The last big question is then why do some players have class and some just have form. Class is something that does not need to be trained to increase the quality of the player. to help create ways of success using more than one technique and one game plan. The better you can execute other plans and tactics, not just your favourite the bigger chance you will have to maintain good performance, win tough games and show you class.
So if you want to start thinking about ways of improving these things again go through the „How to build your System„, „How to Get Into the Zone“ even the interview series from Tom Schroffenegger The people behind the the X’s and O’s and from Lewie Lett From behind the camera to in front of the camera have some great nuggets of information to help expand your system and build towards being a classier player.