Right, Wrong or Personal Bias

Dec. 04, 2017, 12:07 p.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - December 4, 2017 - As the 4th annual National Coaches Forum approaches this Friday, December 8 and Saturday, December 9 at Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster, Pa., a featured guest presenter will be Dr. Jamie Robbins who is set to present on the topic, “Life balance: Who are you kidding, I’m a Coach!” Robbins, who also contributes as a youth development consultant for USA Field Hockey, has two simple goals:  (a) teach individuals how to use their mind to help rather than hurt their performance, and (b) keep learning and growing each day so she has more to offer others.

Dr. Robbins is also a contributor to FHLife Magazine. Her article, Right, Wrong or Personal Bias, appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of FHLife. To read more inspiring, knowledge-packed and fun features revolving around hockey, fitness, healthy eating and how to strengthen your game, subscribe to our quarterly publication or to order additional copies, clicking here.


When working with field hockey coaches and athletes, I often hear one story from very different perspectives. For example, Sarah (coach), told me that Mandy (athlete) was difficult to work with because she either gets angry, defensive or she just shuts down in response to Sarah’s feedback. Mandy, to the contrary, told me coach hates her and only sees her mistakes. Who is right and who is wrong? This is very hard to say and likely neither is fully right or fully wrong because we are all plagued by internal biases. This individuals were not lying, rather they were telling me a story from one side. The researchers Tverskey and Kahneman (1974) identified many biases that influence how we think, act and the choices we make. In other words, they identified common ways our brains trick us into believing we are right, when in reality, we may not be looking at, or have access to, all the facts. The following are explanations of two of those biases. Consider if or how you have fallen victim to these biases and how it impacted your choice, relationship with others or thoughts.

Misconception of regression bias - This bias leads us to think that an outstanding performance can be recreated consistently, rather than realizing that each player and team has a certain average level of play and some days the performance will exceed that average and sometimes it will drop below. This bias has lead coaches to think that their words right before a superb performance influenced the play more than it actually did. For example, Coach Mack felt her team was inconsistent and really great games tended to be followed by poor or below average performances. She believed that the players were being complaisant after good games so instead of her previous provision of praise following successes, she tried yelling at them and pointing out weaknesses only to keep them on their toes. What Coach Mack did not consider was their level of fatigue following a great game or the fact that they played above their average level that game, so it would be normal for them to fall back to an average level of play. This bias also impacts players who continually search for their outstanding performance and get frustrated when they play at their average level or a bit below. These athletes need to recognize their current average level of play, and then work to improve individual skills to improve that average over time. Do you have a realistic perspective of your skill level? Do you know how good your team is generally, not how great they can play on their best days? These questions can help you avoid the misconception of regression bias.

Confirmation bias - This bias leads us to look for evidence that confirms what we already believe. For example, Coach Gordon felt that Kylie was a lazy athlete. He talked to her about working on her hit outside of practice, but he already believed Kylie was not going to accept this challenge. Kylie, however, really wanted to earn more playing time so she spent an extra 15 minutes every day hitting with her sister. During a game Dara got hurt and Kylie was sent in. The first ball came her way and she miss-hit it. Immediately Coach Gordon thought, “I knew she wouldn’t be ready.” In reality, Kylie was just a little nervous. She had a great hit by that point, but her nerves were getting in the way of her performance because she was so afraid of letting her coach down. This bias gets in the way of athletes, coaches and parents alike. How often do you say, “see I knew…”? What you don’t realize is that your initial thought leads you to focus on situations and experiences that confirm your own belief, while simultaneously ignoring other situations and experiences that would disconfirm your thought.

Take home points - At the end of the day, we are all biased. This is not intentional, but it is something you can recognize and modify. We must realize that just because we feel strongly about something, that doesn’t mean we are right. To decrease the influence of our biases, we need to take the time and make the effort to see situations through other people’s eyes. This is not an easy task, but if you do it, you will likely be more satisfied with both yourself and others. Below are suggestions for making this a reality.

Minimize biases by opening your mind to alternative perspectives

1. Recognize that just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s right or true.

2. Biases are our brains way of tricking us into thinking we know more than we do.

3. We are typically blind to our own biases, so we need others to help us see them.

4. Emotions drive biased thinking, so don’t make important decisions when your emotions are strong.

5. Growth happens when we ask questions and listen to the answers.