Targeting the season’s end
The closing stages of a season are a period of perceivably varying incentives, at least relative to earlier months. For clubs and players chasing trophies, Europe or survival, the rewards are motivation enough to perform, but what of those with seemingly little left to play for? Can other targets affect how they perform?
A recent study into the effect of targets in marathons may give us some clues. The authors found that “there are 51%, 22%, and 30%, more finishers in the 1 minute bin before [the] 3:00, 3:30, and 4:00 [hour mark] respectively, than the 1 minute bin after these round numbers.” In other words, powerful targets like the 3 or 4-hour landmark encouraged the runners to try a little bit harder in the final stretch in order to beat their goal.
Whilst incentivising a team with few targets left may be difficult and complex, understanding what motivates players beyond financial carrots towards the season-end might help elicit better performance. Perhaps a young player had always dreamed of starting alongside a certain team mate, or a striker is yearning for the chance of increasing his goal tally to double digits.
We know that arbitrary numbers can lead to suboptimal decisions, but framed in the right way behaviour can be positively affected by well-designed and potentially inexpensive targets. If the pain of missing a target is great enough, who is to say that it isn’t too soon to be building expectations for next season, too.