There is a lot of research on how our mind works and the different levels of bias inherent in what we perceive. I’ve always been fascinated by the way our mind operates and how it influences the way we coach. Human behavior studies show a perceptual bias, where our personal motivations have an influence on what we see, and a response bias, when we report seeing what we wish to see.
There’s also significant data on confirmation bias which is the tendency to seek out, interpret, and favor information in a way that confirms our own beliefs. We actually ignore the information that contradicts the way we feel, and we process ambiguous information in a way that supports our beliefs. The bottom line is we see what we want to see.
I think about confirmation bias a lot when I coach and recruit. It’s a huge factor in evaluation. If you really want to like a kid when you go watch him play (or worse, you really need a player at that position), you are going to find ways to like him. If you have a bad impression of him from the beginning, you’ll find ways not to like him. Understanding the way your mind works will make you a better evaluator.
It also can have a big impact on how we coach. I’m always trying to avoid putting players into a box. You get an impression of who a player is (he’s too soft, doesn’t have good feel, etc.) and you continue to see the things that confirm your impression. The soft kid is never going to shake that label. You always evaluate him through the “soft” lens and any play that he makes confirms what you think.
It’s really easy to coach your players into a corner. Especially when it comes time to make tough decisions on playing time. When you are trying to figure out who to start and how to establish your rotation, you need reasons. You need a rationale as to why some guys are playing and some guys are not. The kid who isn’t tough enough, doesn’t defend, or turns the ball over too much stays in that place and allows you to put the guys you want in the lineup. Many head coaches are looking for a comfort level, and they find it by confirming the the prevalent thoughts that are already in their mind.
It’s not easy as a coach because it’s literally the way the mind works. It’s not a conscious bias, so you don’t realize it’s happening. You really have to be self aware and evaluate how fairly you see things. A lot of players don’t get an opportunity to change their situation because of the way the are perceived, and our mind can play tricks on us.
Don’t coach a player to be the player you think he is to make you more comfortable. Give him a chance to get out of the corner.