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September 04, 2009


The Silent Sceptic

One of the fundamental problems of sports coaching is that assessing the value of the coach is very difficult. A team may win despite the coach being a fool, because the athletes are so good. Similarly a team may lose despite having a brilliant coach because no matter how good you are, you can't polish a turd.

Coaches tend to be aware that appreciation of their abilities is deeply subjective, which fosters a culture in which reputations are protected at all costs, even if this cost is in the form of worse results for the team (a form of rational irrationality perhaps). Truly confident coaches are very rare and tend to be assured of their position, and are much less prone to making this sort of mistake.

I'm not sure the answer is the power of social norms, but the need to engineer a situation in which blame for a poor result can be most easily deflected away from the coach, thus protecting their career. After all, the prime concern for most coaches is not the success of their team, but the progression of their career, and although these two are strongly correlated, the correlation isn't perfect.


Whats the stats like when the game is off importance? not a dull mid table/end of season affair, my guess is when there is a more realistic chance of winning, then they will start taking chances.

James Hamilton

You don't have to call it "soccer" Chris. Just don't refer to it as an Americanism. And remember just how much it tells you about someone if they do refer to it as an Americanism.


"coaches whose teams are a goal down often throw on attacking substitutes"

Thus making it look to the uninformed as if they are doing something.

"Whatever, there’s a message here for mainstream neoclassical economics. Even fierce competition needn’t lead to maximum efficiency."

The coaches would doubtless be worse if there were no competition - if it did not matter to them which team won. (And if you do not get more efficiency by restricting competition, then competition does indeed lead to the maximum possible efficiency.)


proper football*

I didn't know the Bundesliga ran Union.


The American Football analysis was fairly convincing. I haven't time to run through the details of the soccer analysis, but instinctively I see a difference between a formation change and 4th down choices, which they don't seem to have addressed.

In short, 4th down is largely 4th down wherever and whatever.

Soccer formation changes however can (pace Jonathan Wilson's Inverting the Pyramid) have a greater set of reasons behind them.

e.g. Arsenal are playing a narrow 4-4-2 and are 1-0 down to Barcelona. The Barca wing backs are pushing forward at every opportunity and have Arsenal pinned back. If you throw an extra attacker to 4-3-3 it may be that you can change that. You may still lose, but it's not a reputational decision - it's a tactical one.

Alternatively, you're 1-0 down to Burnley thanks to a fluke own goal, but you're getting a chance every minute. Of course in these circumstances you don't put on an extra attacker and the stats are you often win these matches.

Of course, good coaches get these decisions right and bad ones get them wrong or bring reputation defence into their thinking.

However, the paper seems to assign random factors like home advantage a statistical significance, so I'm suspicious that they didn't seem (on a short reading) to properly qualify what a "desperation formation change" is...

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Nevertheless, the two cases have much in common. Both suggest that the power of social norms is huge.

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