Winning and Losing Part I

As a parent and a coach of youth sports, I’ve learned a few things about winning and losing over the last several years.

For example, wins and losses are often not what they appear to be. And, for many parents too much of their own ego depends on whether their kids win or lose.

Wins and losses can be great teachers, but they can be deceiving, too. Drawing the right lessons can be a challenge. Adults are excellent at drawing the wrong lessons.

It’s easy to convince yourself that your team is really good and has made a lot of progress after beating a weaker opponent. I’ve done it. I’ve seen parents do it. I’ve seen pro teams do it.

It is then a let down when you face a superior team and find out that you’re not quite ready for the college scouts just yet.

But, I think it’s important to understand that there’s much more that goes into a win or loss — especially in youth sports — than whether you’re good or not.

One factor, for example, is the relative age effect, which I wrote about in this post. It’s the idea that kids born closer to the age cutoff tend to do better because they have a few extra months of body development.

I had my doubts whether it really existed. Though, it seems there is plenty of evidence for it and now I believe it matches with my personal experience.

As I’ve watched a group of kids age over a few years (admittedly small sample size), I noticed that the kids born closer to the age cutoff tend to dominate — at least, physically. But, I still had my doubts.

The most convincing evidence for me, though, was when we played younger teams. Our B/C-players suddenly looked very good against players that they had the same age advantage over as the A players on our team had on them.

Many wins and losses in youth sports leagues are nothing more than an age mismatch.

Schools that teach marketable skills

I saw a commercial for a career college make the claim that the school teaches real skills that are in demand in the marketplace and allow you to earn money.

I thought that was a good shot at traditional colleges, where that isn’t always the case anymore. I think they do still have quite a few degree programs that teach marketable skills, but they also have quite a few that should be adult community education courses.

 

Merit or Relative Age Effect?

From Seth Godin’s blog: The wasteful fraud of sorting for youth meritocracy:

Ask the well-meaning coaches and teachers running the tryouts and choosing who gets to play, ask them who gets on stage and who gets fast tracked, and they’ll explain that life is a meritocracy, and it’s essential to teach kids that they’re about to enter a world where people get picked based on performance.

Or, they might point out that their job is to win, to put on a great show, to entertain the parents with the best performance they can create.

This, all of this, is sort of dangerous, unhelpful and nonsensical.

I explored this in my post, The Great Participation Trophy Debate.

I agree. Most kid sports, even at the beginning levels, is structured to entertain parents, and like it or not, select on ‘merit’ rather than teach the kids and have fun.

As Gladwell points out, this quest for wins really sorts out the relative age effect, rather than true merit.

I wonder how many potential stars — or just run of the mill good players — this chases away before they realize that the primary reason they weren’t as good as their teammates is because their teammates had several crucial months of development on them.

And, the reason they never got much of a chance to develop was because too few youth coaches do their job and give them chances to improve.

Why does government work so well? Huh?

In this post on EconLog, Bryan Caplan explores why government enterprises work so well.

He makes a good point.

I think the small-government types (like myself) can overplay disasters of government involvement and we lose credibility when we do so. So, I do think its helpful to recognize when government seems to be doing, at worst, okay.

On the flip-side, I think big-government types can overplay the successes of government enterprises.

But, I think much of this is explained to the extent of what level of government we are talking about and the dynamics of that level, to what extent it is bottom-up or top-down.

I discussed this in more detail in this post back in 2013. I think government enterprises that work pretty well are more bottom-up and the ones that don’t work so well are top-down.

That post was inspired by an apples-and-oranges comparison often made by government-types.  They say that fire and police departments are government, and work pretty good. Then they make the logical leap to use this to support that some Federal government enterprise will work.

The lapse in that logic is that fire and police departments, while government enterprises, operate at the local level. There are thousands of these departments, that operate rather independently of one another, across our country. This makes these enterprises operate much more like a bottom-up organization, than top-down. This allows these enterprises to benefit from the same dynamics of innovationism as businesses.

Mystery of the racing rocks solved

In one part of Death Valley, it has been a mystery for some time as to how heavy boulders move across the desert, leaving a trail in the desert floor behind them.

That mystery has now been solved. It turns out that thin ponds of ice water forms to allow the rocks to slide across ice when blown by the wind.

The reason I’m posting this is that I found one part of the story rather humorous. The researchers installed a weather station and put GPS equipment on rocks. They brought in their own rocks because:

(The National Park Service would not let them use native rocks, so they brought in similar rocks from an outside source.)

Yes, we wouldn’t to interfere with the native rocks! Credit to researchers for believing that similar rocks would do the trick.

Dwightisms

David Henderson’s post on sayings from economist Dwight Lee is worth a read. This one is from the comments of that post:

You can tell for whose benefit an institution is run by looking at who gets the closest parking spaces. At universities the students get the most distant spaces, administrators and faculty the closest. At Wal-Mart, they ask the employees to park away from the entrance.

Update: Don Boudreaux also posted this at Cafe Hayek. In the comments of his post, someone points out that professors and teachers also get the good parking spots at his children’s private university and high school, implying that private doesn’t necessarily make the institution more likely to give better parking to the students.

I think it’s important to realize that the private/public distinction is not all that helpful in determining whose benefit the institution is run. Certainly, there are plenty of private institutions run for the benefit of their bureaucrats.

I think an interesting question is how and why such private institutions can get away with that?

One answer for universities may be that they aren’t really run for the benefit of the students, but rather for their parents, who don’t visit as often.

Certainly, all institutions have to try to please multiple groups of stakeholders. But, universities do seem a lot more focused on administrators and faculty than other groups. Tenure is another example.

Why do we trust scientists who can be duped by parlor magicians?

Scott Sumner makes a good point about the economy and studies of it in this EconLog post. He writes:

I recall a story that scientists are often unable to explain the “tricks” performed by magicians. Scientists tend to be smart, but also rather linear thinkers. They are not used to their test tubes trying to deceive them. Something similar occurs in economics.

The economy operates in very subtle ways, and often when I read academic studies of issues like discrimination, the techniques seem incredibly naive to me. They might put in all the attributes of male and female labor productivity they can think of, and then simply assume than any unexplained residual must be due to “discrimination.” And they do this in cases where there is no obvious reason to assume discrimination. It would be like a scientist assuming that magicians created a white rabbit out of thin air, at the snap of their fingers, because they can’t think of any other explanation of how it got into the black hat!

They forget how easily fooled they were by the magician.

Why is this important? Sumner also makes the point that the economy works in subtle ways which are often just as misleading as the magician’s misdirect. He brings up one example, the vexing problem of why dry cleaning prices are higher for women than men. Perhaps it’s gender price discrimination.

The truth test — as Dan Hill points out in the comments to Sumner’s post — is to ask anyone who makes such a claim to put their money where their mouth is. If discrimination is the reason for the higher prices, not costs of some sort (be they direct or opportunity), wouldn’t you be able to make a lot of money by opening dry cleaners that offer a lower price for women?