June 15, 2018

Your Coach’s Cognitive Bias For Skating

I believe that coaches have a cognitive bias for skating. The smart parents and players exploit this.

I separate this blog into my experience, cognitive psychology, and mind reading. I let you know when I do because each has different levels of reliability.

In my experience, the only two things that matter are skating and points. You can get to a level when one runs out. And then you usually stay there.

For example, I am considered a strong skater. In midget and junior b, I was a very offensive defenseman and had lots of points. In Junior A my points, I fought my way into the lineup as a shutdown defenseman. I allowed myself to be pigeonholed there. My points started decreasing. But since my skating still looked strong, I was given the chance at the CIS level. A level normally reserved for Major Junior players. Despite my poor point production (we had lot’s of team success, setting a record in the league for goals against and my plus-minus was through the roof) I was afforded the chance at a higher level. I attribute that to my skating.

But then the points ran dry because I repeated the same pattern. I allowed myself to be pigeonholed in a role that I was comfortable with. Again, highest plus-minus on the team, but not enough points to get a contract in the pro league I wanted.

The opposite is often true. Players might still get points – but when their skating runs out, they stop moving up.

Cognitive Biases

The reason I focus in on skating is that my shot wasn’t particularly good, nor was my stickhandling. Stickhandling doesn’t seem to have the same effect on coaches that skating does. Neither does the shot (unless the shot goes in – so that implies points). Here, I discuss why that might be using the framework of cognitive biases and persuasion.

The Halo Effect

When you have one attractive attribute, we have a tendency to rate that person’s attributes in every other area to be higher as well. Good looking people enjoy these advantages. They are rated higher in intelligence, effectiveness, etc. than others of lesser attractiveness. (On another note, most NHLers are pretty good looking, no? Hmmm…)

A player with one attractive attribute might cause coaches to evaluate their other attributes to be higher.

Visual Persuasion

The most effective form of persuasion is visual persuasion. This explains the power behind images, visual graphs, and data visualization.

Skating is the most visual element of a player’s game. It is SEEN most easily by coaches. But also fans, parents, other players. It is risky for a coach to pick someone who LOOKS sloppy. Regardless of point production.

Putting this together: A player’s skating is the most VISIBLE element of their play. Stickhandling doesn’t show up in a game unless the player is a good enough skater to actually use their hands. And shots happen infrequently. So if skating is the most visual element, and it looks really good – it might trigger the halo effect for coaches.

 

Magic Mechanics Explanation – Why The Halo Effect Usually Works To Predict Success

Remember when I said that I am a strong skater? I was. I literally had my teammates tell me that they loved to watch me do open hip pivots when retrieving the puck.

The only problem was that I was a “strong skater” by typical Power Skating Standards. I possessed about zero of the Magic Mechanics for lateral movement and deception.

In Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he notes that heuristics (mental shortcuts) are used by experts for making quick decisions. Through repetition, you notice a pattern, then create a mental rule. You follow that rule to make decisions. It’s not always 100% correct – but it often is.

So the Halo Effect with skating might be a smart heuristic for coaches: If they’re seeing Magic Mechanic skating – not Power Skating.

With Magic Mechanics Skating, your movement allows you to be deceptive, but also hard to knock off the puck, with a great shot, and good hands. It even indicates a level of mental presence. Because it all blends together. And the base is skating. Specifically,

Typical Power Skating is invented from…I’m not sure what. And it works so against the physics and the natural mechanics of the body that it “looks right” – but doesn’t form the base of your movement. This was me to a tee. I took all the power skating camps, and most coaches thought I “looked good” at skating. But my Power Skating held my hands, lateral movement, and shooting back.

So the Halo Effect usually works when smooth skating is Magic Mechanics skating. Not when it’s Power Skating. Because even though it looks right, the Power Skater won’t be able to sustain their point production. Because the rest of their skills are not up to standard.

Taking Advantage Of This Bias

As a coach, it’s advantageous to differentiate between the two. You can avoid false positives if you identify Magic Mechanics skating vs Power Skating players.

Players and parents can take advantage of the Halo Effect by working on their skating so that it looks right. They can take advantage of the asymmetric payoff if they work on their Downhill Skating because it has downstream effects on other skills as well as the bias of the coach.

Thanks for reading today.

-Jason

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