By Justine Von Arb, Staff Writer
Winning streaks. Hot hands. Streak shooting. Game-winning momentum. Illusions.
While there is a mental aspect to playing and winning games, said women’s head basketball coach Lauren Stamatis, winning and losing is not dependent on previous games.
Stamatis takes the perceived difficulty of teams into account when scheduling non-conference games, but she doesn’t pick easy-to-beat teams in an attempt to build up game-winning momentum. She would rather the Lady Tigers (16-9, 8-5) play good teams to prepare them for a competitive conference.
“We learn a lot more [by playing a good team] even if we lose,” Stamatis said, and it’s the learning that’s important. Many of the specific skills necessary for performing well are teachable and correctable, so Stamatis’ athletes can work on improving those things to perform at a higher level instead of relying on a winning streak or a hot-handed shooter.
Psychology professor Dr. Alison Young agrees. “Confidence is not necessarily related to accuracy,” she said, citing a study performed by Thomas Gilovich, Robert Vallone, and Amos Tversky of Cornell University in 1985. They found that “the outcomes of previous shots influenced…players’ predictions but not their performance.” In other words, the confidence that players gained from making shots did not affect the probability of making future shots.
A 2014 study by Kevin M. Kniffin and Vince Mihalek took a different approach to this phenomenon but found similar results. Instead of analyzing basketball shots, they studied within-series hockey games. These back-to-back games are a “uniquely ripe environment for momentum to potentially occur,” Kniffin and Mihalek said – but game-winning momentum doesn’t occur. “In our evidence, we see that momentum is really just illusory,” they concluded.
“Confidence is not necessarily related to accuracy.”
Confidence gained by winning games might play more of a role in sports with fewer variables and less direct contact, suggested Young, but shooting and winning streaks are still illusory. According to Gilovich et al., “the ‘detection’ of such streaks in random sequences is attributed to a general misconception of chance.” Similar misconceptions can be found in coin tossing, as any statistics student learns.
“[Winning games] has more to do with performing well,” Stamatis said, because it is ultimately playing well, not momentum, which leads to more wins.
What does that mean for players? Stamatis encourages and inspires her players to work on skills, whether shooting or ball handling, to prepare for a game. “Putting in the preparation in advance gives [players] confidence to be able to perform well,” she said. Seeing hard work pay off in a game situation positively contributes to confidence.
Both individual confidence and team confidence are vital to a good performance, though. “They play into each other,” Stamatis said. Each of her players must put in the proper amount of preparation to be at her best so that her teammates know that their team is at its best. Such confidence does not come from game-winning momentum, but from preparation and teamwork.
This preparation and teamwork will be on display in McHie Arena as the team takes on Cardinal Stritch University on Feb. 18 at 5:30 p.m.