Confirmation bias is essentially interpreting something new as confirmation of what you already believe. And as a coach it comes into play a lot. If you like a kid you are recruiting, when you go see him play you are going to find things to like about him – even if he doesn’t play that well. If you don’t think he’s good enough, you’ll see all the stuff you don’t like about him when watching him play.
We can do the same thing with our own players. We are around them every day and it’s our job to evaluate them. You learn everything you can about them, good and bad, and you have to compare them to the everyone else on your team. Figuring out who to start, who should be in your rotation and who’s not going to play isn’t easy. So you’ve got to lock in on everything you see to make the important decisions for your program.
A mistake that’s easy to make is to put your players in a box. You get to know them so well by seeing them every day that you are sure you know who they are. He’s a great shooter but he can’t guard anyone. He’s too slow to play the wing. He’s not tough enough to be our starting center. He’s an awful defender. We make evaluations about all of our players, but it’s easy to put them in a box and keep them there. This limits your ability to see improvement in your players because you aren’t capable or willing to see it. You’ve got to fight this as a coach.
Recognize that confirmation bias is real and try and evaluate your players (and your team) with a clean slate. Force yourself to look for the opposite of what you expect to see in your players. Look for the toughness plays or the extra pass that you don’t normally expect to see. Ask your assistants to do the same. Don’t let them get stuck in the rut of confirming the same evaluation as everyone else in your program. And ask them to specifically find something different they see in each one of your players. Force them to tell you one or two things about your players that go against the group think common evaluation in your office.
You can also bring in an outside set of eyes to evaluate your team. Have a coach that you know – but don’t know too well that you’ve told him all about your team – come in and watch your practice and evaluate your players. Have him describe your players with specific adjectives. That kid that you see as selfish, he might see as aggressive. The guy you say can’t guard anyone, he might see him using angles and space to keep his man in front of him. Give him a blank page to evaluate your team, and see how his thoughts match up with those of you and your staff.
Confirmation bias and group think can stifle the growth of your players and your program. Fight against it every day. Don’t put your players in a box because once they are in there they’ll have a hard time getting out.