Freakonomics in Rugby – Tim Goodenough 28 June 2009
I have just finished ready Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s outstanding pseudo-economics book, Freakonomics. By the authors own admission, their work doesn’t have any consistent unifying theme other than trying to find the truth. They ask questions like, “If drug dealers make so much money, how come they often live with their moms?” and “what do the Ku Klux Klan and real estate agents have in common?”
The spirit of Freakonimcs is to not accept conventional wisdom at face value. It is to keep asking questions until conventional wisdom is validated or disproved. For example conventional wisdom in the USA is that guns are much more harmful to children than swimming pools, however the statistics show something else. “If you own a gun and a swimming pool in your yard, the swimming pool is 100 times more likely to kill your child than a gun is.” (p 207)
Two key questions are asked to challenge conventional wisdom. Is there a correlation (By increasing one thing do we see an increase or decrease (or inverse correlation) in another or does the one thing cause another thing?
How does this apply to rugby?
I have seldom been involved with any sport that is as full of conventional wisdom as rugby.
Does tackling tackle bags lead to improved tackle technique for rugby players?
Does ‘koppestamp’ (Colloquial word for a no-holds barred rugby contact session) create harder/tougher players?
Does breaking down players to nothing and then (trying to) build them up create a good team?
Does having a verbally abusive coach toughen up players?
Does having (a once off) special drinks/meals/supplements/ or making a special focus on a big game improve the sides ability to perform?
All of the above examples may have a correlation to them, by doing x, y will improve. However I am not convinced that any one of the above examples are at cause. They may contribute, but in my mind, accidently and erratically – depending on the personalities and context of the situation.
For me a causal statement would be, faster rugby players are better rugby players. However if you read the literature on speed/sprint training, there is a lot of conventional wisdom in that field too.
Another; Explosive rugby players are better rugby players. Now how do you get explosive? Can your strength trainer explain to you why he does 3 sets of 10 reps, as opposed to 5 sets of 6? Conventional wisdom is all over the place.
In my mind I am always interested in any expert who is willing to challenge everything/anything to see if the core principles stand up to modern day requirements.
And herein lies the challenge. What a coach does today is often linked to what he experienced as a player – if things don’t work out the same it is oftentimes the players fault in the mind of the coach. Things have changed, we are dealing with a very different player in today’s game, than we were 10 to 15 years before, and dramatically different than players in eras before that. Different styles, ideas, conversations, techniques and attitudes are required.
In professional sport or even high level sport, I would want to have as many things in my programme at cause, for a specific outcome as possible. Every task/word/exercise/style that I use should be able to be challenged and validated as being at cause for the outcome I had intended. Sounds quite simple in practise, but it is incredibly challenging in real life. How much of your work is ‘conventional wisdom’ versus validated effectiveness? And how do you know the difference?
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything [c]2005; Levitt, Steven D. and Stephen J. Dubner. William Morrow & Co.,