Motivation

Does “Close” Count in Sports?

"Close only counts in horseshoes and grenade throwing," the saying goes. I heard this saying early and often in my life, generally after trying to seek consolation in barely losing at anything to my older brother.
Sports fans seem to accept this dictum, or as Kanye West put it, "moral victories is for minor league coaches."
As the NBA and NHL playoffs roll on, close games are plentiful. NBA playoff games on three consecutive days were decided by buzzer-beaters. The losers looked devastated. The fans were crushed. The negative effect must have lasted into the next game, right?
Of those three teams to lose by a buzzer beater, two won their next game.
Did coming so close help motivate the losing players in future games?
The New York Rangers have played 11 playoff games this year and all have been decided by exactly one goal. Did their tough losses motivate them to comeback from down 3-1 against Washington to tie the series, or did their recent one-goal wins traumatize their opponent?
Does close count in sports?
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Baseball

Are Yankee Fans Happier than Met Fans?

As the Mets and Yankees prepare to do regular season battle for the 19th straight year, reflecting on the two teams' histories would lead to an obvious conclusion about which team's fanbase is happier.
After all, the Yankees have won 27 World Series championships, featured dozens of hall of famers, and just in the last 20 years, won 5 championships while appearing in the playoffs virtually every season. Meanwhile, over in Flushing, the Mets have won a mere 2 championships in over 50 years of existence, the most recent one almost 30 years ago. Only one man, Tom Seaver, has a plaque in Cooperstown with a Mets hat, and engulfed in financial woes, the team has not had a winning record since 2008. So obviously Yankees fans are happier, right?
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Baseball

Why Opening Day Should Be a Holiday

Last year, led by the efforts of Budweiser and Ozzie Smith, over 100,000 people signed a petition sent to the White House asking to recognize baseball's Opening Day as a national holiday. The petition was respectfully declined--it cites multiple presidents who have thrown out opening pitches over the span of a century--with the explanation that holidays are for Congress to determine.
In the spirit of Passover, one must wonder, why is this sport's Opening Day different from all other Opening Days (or nights)?
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Performance

4 Psychological Secrets of Kentucky’s Success

This weekend, the Kentucky Wildcats will attempt to win two more games and become the first men's college basketball team to finish a season undefeated since Indiana in 1976, and the first to win 40 games. The Wildcats are stocked with talent, assisted in part by coach John Calipari's openness to "one and done" students, i.e. players who would like to enter the NBA quickly but are required to play one season in college.

But as Calipari's historical season has continued, there is also evidence that he utilizes other fields, such as psychology, to ensure that his players have every advantage possible when competing.
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Basking in Reflected Glory (BIRG)

Why We Care About Sports (Part I) – Pleasure

A while back, we posed the question about why we watch sports, but we did not offer any solutions. The months of February and March are a good time to explore, as they traditionally represent down time in professional sports, between the Super Bowl and Opening Day, and before the hockey and basketball playoffs begin (of course, there's always March Madness).
So why do we watch sports? Well, a few reasons, but the first and most obvious is because it feels good.
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Football

What’s Next for Retired NFL Players?

When Tom Brady took a knee to conclude Super Bowl 49, the 2014 season officially came to an end. With it, hundreds of careers ended as well. The average NFL career is a mere 3.5 years. As many players prepare (or are forced) to begin their retirements, their lives quickly become less glamorous than they were used to from their playing days.
Sports Illustrated reported in 2009 that 78% of NFL players are broke within 2-5 years of retiring. Their marriages tend to dissipate quickly. Most are in
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Behaviorism

Why We Believe in Sports Superstitions

Matt Harvey must hate me. How else can I explain that only twice in his major league career has he given up five runs: at his two starts I attended. Put in mathematical terms, his ERA (earned run average) in the starts I attended sits at 8.18 while his ERA in starts I did not attend is a slightly more impressive 2.10. I cannot assume he sees me in the crowd (pretty far up) and decides not to try; rather, some force that I bring to the stadium must create a negative aura leading to his inferior performances.


Fans Believe in Superstitions...
Fan superstitions, whether in thought (like my belief about Matt Harvey) or behavior, are quite common. Bud Light recently released an ad campaign with the tag line "It's only weird if it doesn't work," humorously portraying the varieties of superstitions in which fans engage, with the implicit belief that they are helping their team win.  Though not every fan experiences the most extreme rituals, nearly every fan seems to have his special jersey, drink, or spot on the couch which boosts his team's chances of winning. Others, like myself, know that either attending, or in my case avoiding, the home team's stadium gives that team the best chance to win.

But why do we, otherwise rational, human beings have such paranormal beliefs about a bunch of adult men playing with a ball many miles away from our local bar? Even if we know intellectually that our behaviors cannot help, we seem unable to avoid them, perhaps just in case they help in some way.


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Cognitive Bias

Monday Morning Offensive Coordinator – Hindsight Bias

“He should have run!” “No, it wouldn’t have made sense!” The debate surrounded the ending of the sport’s biggest game of the year. Game 7 of the World Series ended with the question of whether Royals third-base coach Mike Jirschele should have sent Alex Gordon home on a triple hit into the outfield gap. Sound familiar?
This past week, a far more viewed and now more famous controversy developed when the Seattle Seahawks, three feet away from scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the final minute of Superbowl 49, elected to pass. The result was an interception and the Patriots won.
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Cheating

Deflate-gate and the Psychology of Cheating

As the biggest sports event of the year approaches (4 days 5 hours 48 minutes 32 seconds away as of this writing), the black cloud that's been hanging over the NFL all season continues to darken. In a season that started with the Ray Rice fiasco, the NFL is now involved in a cheating scandal surrounding the New England Patriots and the possibility that they deflated their footballs to gain an advantage against the Colts in the AFC championship game.
The scandal began with league officials, then moved up to the coach and quarterback, and has now escalated into exchanges between opponent players and team ownership. Every member of the media is overwhelmed by this massive story line during a week when generally, stories must be extracted out of very little substance.
The consensus of former players, the media (outside of New England), and the fans seems to be that the Patriots cheated and that quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick were a part of it. The questions then become why and how.
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Cognitive Bias

Loss Aversion – Why Packer Fans are Still Suffering

At work this week, I heard two colleagues speaking words of consolation in gentle tones, as if at a funeral. I immediately understood that one was a Packers fan.
This past Sunday, in the NFC conference championship game, the Green Bay Packers experienced one of the most heart-breaking defeats in football history. The Packers had thoroughly dominated the game for 55 minutes, and after intercepting the Seattle Seahawks for the fourth time with a 12-point lead, their chances of winning were well over 90% (96.1% according to ESPN; 99.9% according to CBSSports and others).
And yet...
As you may imagine, the loss hurt Packers players and fans alike. But what's unusual, and kind of depressing as a sports fan, is that bad losses like these actually hurt more than great wins feel good.
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