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The thing about that win

… is that you may not have deserved it.

On the other hand, perhaps you shouldn’t have lost the match?


Consider this analogy: two students are preparing for an exam, which has three questions. One studies the entire syllabus, all six topics, safe in the knowledge she has all bases covered regardless what question comes up. The other, less able student studies three topics in the hope that the questions will fall his way. On the day of the exam, the three topics the second student revised for appear in the paper, and both students score high marks. The outcome is the same, but only one of the students truly deserved it. The other was lucky, and on another day the outcome would have been different.

When the result goes your way, it’s tempting to believe that your performance warranted the victory. Or, in defeat, that it’s time to ring the changes. “You’re only as good as your last game”, so the saying goes.

But here’s the thing: football is a low scoring sport, which means invariably luck plays its part and teams don’t necessarily get what they deserve in the short-term. In nearly half of all games, the result doesn’t go in the direction suggested by the balance of play.

What if we told you that one Premier League team has secured 13 more points than their performances deserve this season? Or that a team in the Bundesliga are 12 places below where they should be in the league table?

Sometimes the league table does lie.

When we only focus on results, we can over-estimate or under-estimate the need for change and make rash decisions. Instead, focusing on performance helps us achieve a true gauge of the underlying, sustainable strength of our team.

In the long-run, our statistical model suggests that performance (measured by focusing on process rather than outcomes) is a better predictor of league-table position than results. Or in other words:

Short-term equation:
Performance + Luck = Result

Long-term equation:
Performance = Results

About Blake Wooster

Blake Wooster has created 66 entries.