By Crystal Suetterlin and Dr. Michael Barbera
It’s the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two-out, full count, you’re down by one. A hit wins the game…a grand slam…you’re a legend. Dial-in, get focused…not distracted.
Becoming a successful hitter requires more than a quick bat and good hand-eye coordination. It requires a specific approach to hitting and confidence in your ability to put the ball in play. The key to success at the plate is cognitive preparation. Great hitters have different batting stances, physical talent, and mechanics. What they do have in common is a strong belief in their ability to overcome their decision biases.
Human decision biases are often mitigated by sports psychologists to enhance athletic performance. Sports are physically challenging as much as they are cognitively challenging. Golf is a cognitively challenging sport because golfers have a smaller team dynamic to mitigate intuition and guesswork. Competing on a championship course can be cognitively taxing because there are many decision variables involved in the game, which include intuition and guesswork, challenging terrain features, and unique course features. Behavioral science could be a golfer’s teammate or adversary.
HOT HAND FALLACY
The Hot Hand Fallacy could be detrimental to a golfer’s performance because the phenomenon could influence a person’s expectation of a successful outcome from a recent hot streak or small sample size. This fallacy is likely to occur when golfers complete several amazing shots in a short period of time. This hot hand phenomenon could produce overconfidence during an athlete’s hot streak.
Mental Performance Coach of the Cleveland Indians, Cecilia Clark, compared the hot hand fallacy and athlete decision-making to junk food, “All confidence is not created equal. There are many ways to prepare for competition. I oftentimes hear athletes want to gain confidence by preparing for competition by doing what’s easy for them. They can then see themselves continually having success and feel more confident; however, when the competition gets tough, this confidence often fades quickly. I call this “junk food confidence”. It feels good to eat it, it’s fast and sugary but you can’t run on it for long.”
Furthermore, Cecilia Clark believes there is healthy confidence, “Much like health food, it often takes longer to prepare, sometimes doesn’t taste as good but it helps you run a lot longer through tougher situations. Healthy confidence is built through challenges.” Additionally, “training near a point of failure [is] where you have to see mistakes and gain confidence through overcoming these challenges. It doesn’t always feel as “good to eat” as the junk stuff but it gets you through tougher situations in competition.”
GARY THE GOLFER
Gary has been playing golf for the previous 10-years. Gary won a set of clubs at the last tournament he attended. The new clubs are considered the best clubs in the game and are likely to improve Gary’s performance. During the next tournament, Gary decided to use his traditional clubs, which were slightly damaged from years of use. Gary knows, likes, and trusts his set of clubs because they were his father’s clubs. Gary refused to deviate from the family golf clubs.
Gary likely overvalued the family clubs because there is an emotional attachment. The Endowment Effect is an emotional bias of using an item because of familiarity and comfort. An athlete is likely to be biased with the Endowment Effect even if the items are underperforming or inoperable.
Behavior change is often cognitively taxing and difficult to overcome. New Years’ Resolutions are an example of behavior change and most resolutions are not achieved. For example, Sam made a resolution to lose 40-pounds in January. Sam’s plan included changing his diet, modifying daily routines, taking more steps, joining a gym, and visiting the gym twice a day beginning January 1st. This weight loss plan might appear overzealous and challenging.
Sam’s plan is likely to fail because there is a lot of change during a short period of time. A sustainable course of action might include, changing diet several times a week during the first two weeks, visiting the gym three days a week during the second and third weeks, walking more steps during week four, and revising the goal to 40-pounds within ten months. By incorporating small wins within small doses during an extended period of time, the plan becomes more sustainable and the likeliness of success significantly increases.
There are many methods of achieving behavior change; however, limiting the methods to three is likely to reduce choice overload.
- Mindfulness – awareness of cognitive biases to enhance the objectivity of decisions
- Evidence-based Training – fundamental routines that are supported by evidence-based sources such as data and analytics
- Limited Choices – reducing the number of available options to reduce cognitive taxation and choice overload
Being mindful of the situation, and historical and environmental constructs could increase the objectivity of decisions. Furthermore, omitting emotional rationale or subjective thoughts could decrease the number of heuristics during the decision task. The application of mindfulness is supported by data and analytics. The Endowment Effect and other biases are likely to be reduced with historical data.
Additionally, too many choices are likely to create an environment of cognitive taxation whereas many choices might sound appealing; however, too many choices could quash the decision process and the likeliness of indecision could significantly increase.
There are many factors that could impact an athlete’s performance during a match. Golf and baseball are games of patience, skill, and control, and players should be physically and cognitively prepared to compete. Preparing the mind for competition includes many behavioral science and decision science constructs; however, simplicity is the foundation of behavior change. Lastly, when making decisions during a competition…manage your choices, be mindful and be objective.