Psychology of the Hot Hand – A Lesson on Success

Watch a professional or pickup basketball game. Notice when a player hits a shot and then see if they shoot during the next possession. The “hot hand” is the belief that a shooter can heat up to consistently make a series of baskets. Over the weekend, MIT hosted the Sloan Sports Analytic Conference and discussed the hot hand.The photo above took place during my high school basketball career. If I made a shot, I would immediately want the ball back to take the next shot. Many shooters feel this unction, because they view made shots as magic in the bottle. Meaning, they want hit shots in bunches and as quick as possible. This experience of success tends to lead to taking greater risks; longer shots and/or more contested shots.

Previous studies saw the hot hand as a fallacy , because the statistics proved that players would miss the next shot they took. The paper presented, The Hot Hand: A New Approach to an Old Fallacyat MIT made a few updates to the study. Andrew Bocskocsky, John Ezekowitz, and Carolyn Stein not only charted made or missed shots, but they took into consideration the difficulty of the shots. Did the shooter take a longer shot? Was the defender playing closer?

Players made a slightly higher percentage of difficult shots and more often defenders played hot handed shooters closer. The making of shots gave players confidence or in some cases over confidence to take the next shot.

Let’s go back to Peter Englert in high school. Instead of anticipating a shot the next possession, I should have been looking to play within the offense and find an open shot. The confidence in making a series of shots would have increased the ability to make shots with less difficulty. Perhaps, taking shots in rhythm would have prolonged the hot hand further during the game and even extending to the next game.

What does this teach about success? Success can come as a detriment of attempting things outside of ability and being impaired by tunnel vision. The shooter sought their own shots, rather than confidently waiting for a better shot in the game.What if success provided confidence to make incremental steps of growth? Wisdom develops over time. Rash, short term, hot handed confidence may not see the big picture. Confidence forming with incremental steps of growth provides the opportunity see the big picture. See the whole floor and the open teammates.

We can often live on spectrum of unbelievable highs and lows. Patience, the ability to have the long range in view while making significant steps in rhythm. Remaining faithful does not mean passing on opportunities to shoot, rather sees opportunities which can come in stride. Most coaches would say, “Play within your game.”

What lessons have you learned from observing shooters with the “hot hand?”

2 Comments

  1. We can also use the psychology to better uplift the team. If the defender views me as the “hot hand” they will guard me more closely. That will mean somebody else is going to be more open. My success can help create opportunities for someone else to be successful as well. By helping someone else achieve success, I might in turn be more open to seeing the same further down the road as well.

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