How Cognitive Biases Impact Athlete Choices

Athletes making a decision on the football field influenced by cognitive biases.

Every day, human beings unconsciously make choices that, upon deep reflection, might not align with rational thought. For instance, consider the act of smoking. Even when individuals know its harmful effects, many continue to smoke. But could such thought processes also offer insights into Louis van Gaal’s challenging tenure at Manchester United?

Read more: How Cognitive Biases Impact Athlete Choices

The Science Behind Our Choices

‘ve always been fascinated by the intricate mechanism that underpins decision-making in sports. What drives these choices? What foundation supports them? My journey to unravel these mysteries has led me to various theories. One of the most influential researchers in this domain is Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman. He introduced a dual-system theory for understanding human decisions:

System 1: Effortless Thinking

This is our brain’s ‘autopilot mode’ used in everyday situations, like gauging someone’s mood. It’s automatic and doesn’t require in-depth analysis – a capability reserved for our second system.

System 2: Deliberate Decision Making

When you’re solving complex problems, drawing logical conclusions, or giving undivided attention, you’re engaging System 2. This system is believed to distinguish us from animals.

While our senses feed information to our brain, most assume decisions come from our rational System 2. This notion posits that executive skills lead to logical decisions. However, a simple test regarding whether one reads “13” or “B” based on their reading direction reveals that interpretation plays a key role in decision-making. We often believe we’re making rational decisions when, in reality, it’s a gut response. Considering we make around 10,000 micro-decisions daily, Kahneman believes our brains are designed for efficiency, not continuous deep thinking. This gives rise to decisions stemming from ‘Cognitive Biases’.

 cognitive biases.

Sports and Decision Making

This week, I stumbled upon an interview with football icon Wayne Rooney on He reflected on his time under Van Gaal at Manchester United, stressing that while Van Gaal excellently prepared the team, the execution on the field was lacking. Rooney highlighted that the onus was on the players to do better. Delving deeper into the athletes’ minds, one wonders if some players’ intuitive decisions contradicted Van Gaal’s rational instructions. Cognitive biases like overconfidence, leading to increased risk-taking, or availability heuristic, where one overemphasizes certain information, might have played a role. Rooney concluded, “The manager can do so much, but it ultimately boils down to the players and the team’s performance.”

While I can’t assert that cognitive biases solely affected Manchester United’s performance under Van Gaal, they potentially influenced player choices. Kahneman emphasizes that information interpretation governs its value. Once we form an opinion, we believe we’re making informed choices, but often cognitive biases influence our decisions. For trainers and coaches, understanding how athletes interpret information and ensuring correct unconscious application is key.

Maslow’s Learning Theory and Cognitive Biases

Maslow’s hierarchy offers insights into learning and behavioral change. It ranges from ‘unconsciously incompetent’ to ‘consciously competent’ to ‘unconsciously competent’. It’s crucial for trainers to ensure that during the ‘consciously incompetent’ and ‘consciously competent’ phases, athletes interpret information correctly to avoid cognitive biases.

In conclusion, while we make numerous decisions daily, many are unconscious. Some of these choices are influenced by cognitive biases. For trainers and coaches, recognizing and addressing these biases is vital. For youth trainers, instilling correct unconscious decisions is paramount. Recently, Sportbrain adopted the groundbreaking ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) methodology to guide unconscious behavior – more on this soon.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top