Sporting passion, a recipe for emotional bias?
Ever wondered why one football coach derides the referee for missing the “obvious penalty” they felt should have been awarded to their team? Clearly the referee could have made a genuine error and the penalty was indeed obvious. However, the certainty of the coach could reflect their own emotional bias. Sitting among impassioned fans and experiencing their sense of injustice at any decision not awarded in their teams favour, including those of throws 60 meters away, betrayed the strong influence this bias can play. The question may be not if emotional bias exists but what influence does it have on sports?
The danger in this process is seeing things from just one angle. Vested interest in the decision can drive the coach or the fan to “see” what they wish to see. For the coach or the player (and particularly the fan) it would be tempting to use this bias to suggest a greater degree of bad luck affected their performance than was reality- “we were robbed there”. For the coach and player (but not the fan) true analysis of inadequacies could be brushed aside to the detriment of future performance. The struggling sports team can perceive that as outcomes are not matching their desires the team has some inherent inadequacies and requires change. This drive for change may come as a result of the ill feeling of poor performance. This may be true but the temptation for change has to be matched with the capacity for change. For many teams bringing in new and better personnel may not be possible, the players not in the first choice side are likely to be of poorer quality but the desire to act in line with the bias could stimulate change. In reality this decision could lead to decline in the belief and motivation of the already struggling team- as such the opposite of the intended outcome, performance boost, occurs. Recognising that emotional bias may be driving their desire the team, in both these situations, can decide that luck is a key element in outcome but the favoured option is not a reactionary response but a true analysis of what area they can improve upon and which areas it is fruitless to consider.
Sportspeople driven strongly to succeed who find themselves in situations shaping against their desires are likely to experience negative feelings. This could bias the sportsperson into sensing success is further away than it is. Performance, from motivation, could be enhanced or hampered by this feeling. Channeling this emotive response into motivation can aid their outcome. There may be no one size fits all policy, some players will gain drive and motivation from the negative feeling, and some may lose heart. Recognising this themselves and in the coaching team could help them to respond in the best way. The individual can be aware of the possibility of this bias and remind themselves that they may be being harder on themselves than necessary.
Some emotional bias may be wholly necessary to performance, to dismiss the rationality that you have little chance to win from 3-0 down, to fully believe that you are destined to win the world cup or meant to be a professional sportsperson. This can drive the individual on when they are against rationally long odds. This is not the same as having a constantly positive outlook, more a feeling that it is inconceivable that you could fail. Seeing the most dominant sportspeople at their best- they appear to exude this kind of positive strength; think of Tiger Woods, Manchester United in their prime. It may be through bias and reinforcement of bias throughout their lives that they really feel they are invincible. It may be ignoring the rational thought that their nightmare of losing could come true that prevents them from panic and crippling anxiety in the tough situations. Maybe it isn’t the fabled “mental strength” more the mental rigidity? Refuse to lose because it is impossible to perceive: a powerful motivator. Could this mentality be harnessed? It is part of what makes playing sport so appealing, a feeling of invincibility of greatness?
Professionalism in sport has led to many individuals trying to train their psychology as well as their body. Cover all bases, improve every area possible. Mental manipulation of emotional bias maybe one of the areas to you should look into.