Applied Soccernomics: Part II

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In my ongoing series of compari

ng some principle suggestions by the authors of Soccernomics to hockey I”ll be looking at suggestion #2:

Use wisdom

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of crowds

Here is where hockey seems to place itself ahead of soccer in many respects. Though while supporters of hockey will suggest that thisSU0-224
isn”t the only instance where hockey is the better of the two sports; I”m going to try to stay to this one specific instance.

In Part I, I briefly detailed the front office organization differences and similarities between the two sports. The most glaring difference between the two was the division of powers in hockey with the utilization of both a General Manager and Coach. In soccer, both duties are held primarily by just the Manager. Though in soccer there appears to be a formal division of these powers with the appointment of other club official titles like assistant manager, first team manager, fitness coach, goalkeeping coach, director of football, academy director, youth manager, etc. These titles typically work under the manager. Overarching managerial positions exist, such as President and various VP positions but I”ve yet to really to figure out their purpose in the grand schemes of running a football club. At the end of the day, much of , if not all of the on-field performance is attributed to the manager and his doings. Not much credit is given to those working in the more technical areas. It maybe attributed to sports media, as it isn”t as cool to talk to the strength and conditioning coach unless he”s doing something stupid like .

While North American sports and hockey may be onto something with dividing the powers between GM and coach, there still lie some inefficiencies within the matter.SY0-101 Enough so that attributing the term that hockey already uses “Wisdom of crowds” is narrowsighted and deserves greater insight.

Far too often in hockey when changes in front office staff occurs, there appears to be a deciding point on whether the new face of the managerial staff will focus on either just the GM or just the Coach. For the owner, he”ll typically choose one to be the deciding factor in the improvement of a club and the onus will primarily fall on this one person. It signifies to a “chicken and egg” debate on who really runs the team. On one perspective you could say it is the GM who is responsible for creating the roster through trade acquisitions and draft picks. While on the other hand it is the responsibility of the head coach to take his current roster and inspire and will the team to victories in the regular season and on to the playoffs if they are to be as lucky. Typically media will focus its attention on just one of these actors of management and less to the other in the face of creating an image of old school management with one primary leader. When in fact professional hockey organizations may have as many as 8 “coach” related titles. The current Stanley Cup champions did so with 6 coaches. Who isn”t to say the input of the other 5 coaches wasn”t as valuable as the GM or Head Coach”s input in the final result for the Boston Bruins in last year”s Stanley Cup finals?

What I”m trying to suggest here is that the use of a group of opinions will fare better than the thought process of smaller group. In Soccernomics, the authors use two examples to analogize the use of wisdom in crowds:

“For instance, if you ask a diverse crowd to guess the weight of an ox, the average of their guesses will be very nearly right. If you ask a diverse set of gamblers to bet on, say, the out-come of a presidential election, the average of their bets is likely to be right, too.” (p. 68)

As highlighted, the key word is diverse. When non-diverse groups are asked to form opinion they typically are less successful than a diverse mix. Though not specifically illustrated in the book, the term typically associated with non-diverse group thinking is “groupthink“. It is a term that describes a social psychological phenomenon in group dynamics. It suggests that in groups where members try to mitigate conflicts, will search out consensus based decisions rather than critically evaluate and explore alternatives. That right there maybe professional sports management #1 problem of all time. It”s something that isn”t just specific to hockey or soccer, but basketball, football, you name it chances are Groupthink is affecting the performance of many, if not all of the professional sports organizations in the world.

In the NHL specifically, it leads to the ability to draw coaching fraternity family trees. And in some instances, these fraternities become engrained within the organization itself. Due to my close proximity, I”d argue the Oilers are responsible for this mindset. So are the Montreal Canadiens, though in recent times it seems like they are making the moves to rid themselves of this old standard.

I”m hard pressed to find successful examples in the NHL of use of wisdom in crowds, but unfortunately I can”t find

Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle

Groupthink at work. (photo via Christinne Muschi REUTERS, Postmedia News; National Post)

anything substantial. I”d say that at current point the league is at a philosophical crossroads on the idea of using diverse groups. Most notably, in the integration of advanced statistics in player and roster evaluation. At latest edition of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, a hockey panel was assembled to discuss the use of advanced statistics. Featured on this panel was Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, former NHLer Tony Amonte, broadcaster (and former player, coach and GM) Mike Milbury and Michael Schuckers, an Associate Professor of Statistics at St. Lawrence University, and the always quotable Brian Burke, current GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The panel illustrated a comprehensive look of the dynamics of the introduction of advanced statistics has had on front office decision making. To be frank, it hasn”t been positive. GMs like Burke believe vehemently that advanced statistics can not provide adequate advice in the decision making process or at least in comparison to the true and tried resources that have been used for years like scouting. Stanley Cup winning GM, Chirarelli was more accepting and acknowledging of what advanced statistics can have in assisting an organization.

I”m not trying to suggest that GMs and whole front office staffs should be throwing their aspirations and hopes at “Moneypuck” wannabes but at least be receptive of new ideas.

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