Sports Science doesn’t answer questions

Sports Science doesn’t answer questions. It allows you ask better questions.

We all love to make predictions. It doesn’t matter if it’s sport “Warriors will win easily tonight, they’ve too much talent” or life “They’re a perfect couple, they’ll be married within the month”. Of course in business and sport we apply the same thought processes. What’s perhaps more interesting, is that we also tend to listen more to statements that are absolutes. People who take absolute stands on certain questions tend to be more appealing, whereas those who provide fewer clear answers are less appealing.

The Tetlock Phenomenon
In 2005 Philip Tetlock provided an interesting insight in his book “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?”. Based on many studies and years of research, Tetlock proposed that people who make prediction such as experts on television or get quoted in newspaper articles are essentially no better than the rest of us. However there is important point – they are rarely held accountable, unlike those of us who’s job rely on results, based on these decisions.

The truth is that we all yearn for certainty in business, life and sport. This is why we also love to align ourselves with people or things that present a decision or solution stated with certainty.

These natural human urges have for the past 15 years fed the explosion in science and technology in sport. Fueled by marketing budgets, anecdotes and movies such as ‘Moneyball’, the perception was created that sports science and sports technology would provide a path to the land of certainty.

The False Promise
Only now is the sports community slowly realizing that this was a false promise. I say slowly, because in many cases there has been huge investment in technology, people and science projects. No one wants to admit they have been wrong. No one wants to go back to the boss and admit the investment they begged for a few years ago hasn’t delivered what they thought it would.

This is not to say sports science doesn’t work. It will not deliver you to the promised land of certainty, but it can help, when used properly. Sports science and Technology won’t answer performance questions. Sports Science does two things. Firstly, it with test or assessment results it allows you ask better questions. Which allow you solve partial problems. Secondly it gives you something invaluable and underrated – insight.

Understanding this is critical to making your sports science program work properly and effectively.

Use your Dashboard
There is one final aspect to bear in mind. Science and technology are like the dashboard of your car. They provide signals and indications – confirmations if you will – that what you are doing is correct. They are necessary, but there’s a reason self-driving cars haven’t been perfected yet.

Imagine you are driving your car home from work. You have driven this route many times. On the 10 or 15-minute drive you will probably never look at your GPS, your speedometer or fuel gauge. You know where traffic lights are, you know upcoming corners and traffic hazards. You are familiar with the drive, you ‘know’ instinctively the speed you’re traveling at is safe. Your brain registers the frequency of passing stationary objects like trees. You drive in the gray.

On a new route, you’ve never driven before you’ll use more analytical feedback. You will use your GPS, you’ll check your speed and fuel gauge more often. You will still rely on instinct, but you will combine it with quantitative data.

But you are always in control. Sport is a people business. Sports Science and Technology are your dashboard, but you are the decision-making element always in control.

To make your sports science program effective don’t look for certainty, use science and technology to make YOU better at making decisions.

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