Saturday, February 18, 2006

And, in further news from the land of "confidence"...

Our women's hockey team yesterday was upset by Sweden, leaving us with hopes of a bronze medal, at best. What makes this interesting for SHAMblog purposes is that here again, the team went into the competition with confidence soaring, fully expecting to bring home the gold. There was this, for example, from forward Julie Chu: "I think we're pretty confident. We prepared really well. When you prepare well you can have confidence from that." Julie added that she felt her team was "peaking" at just the right time. (Evidently she neglected to consider that the Swedes might be peaking on, well, a slightly higher peak...)

The Olympics are actually a marvelous case study for our purposes. Seldom, even in previous Olympics, have we had such a vivid and comprehensive written record detailing what competitors were thinking and feeling prior to the competition. Usually what we're left with is 20/20 hindsight: athletes (or sports commentators) who reason backwards from victory, seeking to explain the results in terms of the mindset that supposedly produced it. Often it gets downright silly. As I point out in SHAM, when U.S. sprinter Michael Johnson won one of his gold medals in the 1996 Olympics, NBC's track announcers seemed bent on crediting Johnson's heroics to just about everything except his footspeed. To them, it wasn't about speed. It was about Johnson's confidence, his mental preparation, his determination not to let anyone beat him today... Indeed, the fact that he might simply be faster than his opponents seemed not to occur to anyone!

Thanks to the world stage here and the current status of "omnimedia" (apologies to Martha Stewart), we can look at what the athletes say before their races, games, events, etc., compare that to the observed results, then see what we've got. I'm not saying that this exercise provides a scientifically valid analysis. But it's food for thought, no?

P.S. And while we're on the subject of confidence--or the lack of same--and how each may figure--or not figure--in a given outcome, how 'bout this quote I just came across from Ted Ligety, the surprise U.S. gold medalist in the men's combined ski event? "It's hard to put into words," said Ligety. "I definitely thought it was possible to get a medal but I didn't really think I would get gold.... I never expected to be here right now."

Hmmm. So the guys/gals who expected to win a gold medal...didn't. And the guy who didn't expect to win gold...did. Is anyone reminded at least a little bit of the weight-loss study suggesting that the path to success is to "expect failure...but keep on trying"?

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