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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Basketball: Deconstructing Victory - Bets, Skill, and Luck

"Love your losses" and learn from mistakes. We constantly bet. We bet that eating a donut now won't cost us obesity and diabetes later. We bet that studying today improves our grade, educational opportunity, and success later. We bet that buying an expensive widget today won't impair our retirement tomorrow. We bet that wearing a seat belt might save our life. We bet that a vote for candidate X won't result in catastrophe. 

I'm reading an outstanding book, Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke, that dissects results in process. Duke is a former World Series of Poker champion. Here are a few quotes:

"We have the opportunity to learn from the way the future unfolds to improve our beliefs and decisions going forward. The more evidence we get from experience, the less uncertainty."

"Self-serving bias has immediate and obvious consequences for our ability to learn from experience.* Blaming the bulk of our bad outcomes on luck means we miss opportunities to examine our decisions to see where we can do better.

"As artist and writer Jean Cocteau said, “We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?”" (That's our equivalent to the saying, "we know how God feels about money. Look whom he gives it to.")

Stay with me. Duke helps us understand the nuances among skill and luck in defining results. Duke profiles the archetypical poker champion, Hall of Famer, Phil Ivey. After his wins, he meticulously reviews his game with others, searching for flaws, remediable decisions. Replicate or remedy

Last weekend, we played a pedestrian middle school girls' basketball game, winning 43-36. Amidst the "brilliant coaching" (sarcasm) what factors decided the outcome?

How did skill and luck intersect? We devote the majority of practice to fundamentals, especially offense (layups, shooting, free throws). I doubt we spend more than twenty percent on defense. I believe that if we don't emphasize offense, everyone will outscore us. That's not necessarily true. Results follow a continuum of skill and luck and it's hard to assign proportions. See the LEARNING LOOP above from Duke's book. My core belief is that offensive efficiency outweighs defense (if defense is adequate). 

What skill deficiencies cost us? 

1. We foul relentlessly. Two of my top players got three fouls in the first eight minutes (that's not easy when most are playing 3-4 minute stretches interspersed with substitution). It also informs understanding how to play to the officiating and whether to remove players during the first half with two fouls. Coaching matters only as it translates to our teams. 

2. We couldn't contain the ball off the dribble. That exposes poor defensive preparation (I own that) and opponent skill (give them credit). 

3. Guard your yard. Cover your player. Individual breakdowns allowed easy baskets (obviously that girl was invisible to us). Individual defenders haven't embraced the shut-down challenge (I own that). 

4. During the first five minutes, we missed at least eight layups. We can't practice layups and free throws enough. (Self-serving bias: we have three hours of practice a week. I've talked with coaches who have as much as twelve...hard to believe.)

What luck saved us? 

1. Our opponents shot free throws poorly. I doubt they made twenty percent. 

2. Key players didn't foul out. Playing with fouls is a learned skill. But our opponent didn't attack them either. 

Key point: winners study flaws in their knowledge, preparation, and execution. Success is a choice. 


Containing the ball: Footwork, balance, pressure

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