A discourse on luck

by   |   18/02/2016   Comments  [Jump to last]

For my sins, I teach a Theory of Coaching course at the University of Toronto. We cover all the expected topics but one of my favourite discussions is about "Luck".

The oft quoted "It is often said that a lucky coach is better than a good coach" is our starting place. It is not a theory of football coaching course but a general coaching course and, occasionally, the subject turns to football (soccer!)

Is it unlucky when Ross Barkley produces a wonderful controlled shot that hits the post and goes in or does not? The moment the ball hits the post, the difference between going in or staying out is probably less than inch. If Ross shoots from 20 yards, his accuracy limit revolves around that inch. Compare this to Barney the dart slinger, if he misses from 8 feet by an inch, he is having a bad day.

Not being a darts player, I watched the recent World Darts Championship with fascination at how players accurately hit tiny areas with amazing consistency. Yes, the distance is small, the dart tip is minute, and target is minimal but by consistent practice these guys rarely miss. So, is darts or snooker a game where luck is minimized? Both are what sport psychologists refer to as "closed skills" – meaning the object does not change, neither does the environment. All that does change is the shot required to get the double or pot the ball.

Research is often quoted that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve perfection. Not sure many of us can afford that time. My take on "Luck" is that the more times you put the ball or dart or whatever into the right area at the right time, the more chances you have of eliminating luck. Luck obviously plays a huge part in winning most football games — or losing them, as Bobby tells us all too regularly. There is no legislating against that twat Atkinson for being such a shithole ref...

The other often quoted line is that luck balances itself out over the season! No real research or evidence for that! Any offers to watch every Blues match in the Premier League and log the number of lucky and unlucky instances? I will be happy to write up the thesis!

So, what do I tell my students or players that I now coach? Put the ball in the best possible place depending on the state of the game as many times as possible so that it is skill that determines the outcome and minimizes "Luck"? If I have a bad run of results, then (like RM) I can resort to "bad luck" as my excuse to stop me getting the sack!

Having said all that, I am still going to wear my lucky shirt, won't move if we score, and keep everything crossed on Saturday.


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