Outcome Bias in Sports Coaching: A Widespread Phenomenon

Coach Analyzing Game Outcome

The decision-making process in sports coaching, especially under the pressure of wins and losses, has always been a subject of fascination.

Read more: Outcome Bias in Sports Coaching: A Widespread Phenomenon

A compelling study, “Replication: Do coaches stick with what barely worked? Evidence of outcome bias in sports,” by Pascal Flurin Meier, Raphael Flepp, and Egon Franck, published in the Journal of Economic Psychology, Volume 99, 2023, provides crucial insights into this aspect, revealing a common cognitive bias among coaches across various sports.

Exploring Outcome Bias in Sports Coaching

The study replicates and extends the findings of Lefgren et al. (2015), exploring the concept of outcome bias in coaching decisions. Outcome bias occurs when decisions are judged based on the outcome rather than the quality of the decision at the time it was made. In sports, this bias is evident when coaches make strategic changes based on narrow wins or losses, regardless of whether these outcomes reflect the effectiveness of the strategies.

Methodology and Key Findings

The research analyzed data from professional basketball leagues, including the NBA, the top women’s professional basketball league, college basketball, and even extended its findings to the National Football League (NFL). It discovered that professional basketball coaches in the NBA tend to change their starting lineup more frequently after narrow losses than after narrow wins. This pattern, indicating outcome bias, was also observed in other basketball leagues and the NFL. Interestingly, the study suggests that while outcome bias remains a credible and robust phenomenon, its impact has weakened over time in some instances.

The Implications of Outcome Bias

The tendency of coaches to react more strongly to narrow losses than narrow wins can have significant implications. It highlights the psychological aspect of decision-making in sports, where the fear of repeating a loss may drive coaches to make changes that might not be necessary or optimal. This finding is crucial for understanding how coaches evaluate their strategies and make decisions, emphasizing the need for a more nuanced approach to performance analysis.

Broader Impact Across Sports

The study’s revelation that outcome bias is not limited to basketball but is also prevalent in other sports like football broadens the scope of this bias in the coaching domain. It underscores the need for coaches, teams, and sports analysts to be aware of this cognitive bias and to strive for decision-making processes that are more data-driven and less influenced by the emotional impact of narrow outcomes.

Why This Research Matters

In the competitive world of sports, where every decision can have a significant impact, understanding the psychological underpinnings of coaching strategies is vital. This research not only contributes to the academic understanding of cognitive biases in sports but also provides practical insights for coaches and teams on avoiding pitfalls in decision-making.


“Replication: Do coaches stick with what barely worked? Evidence of outcome bias in sports” is a pivotal study that sheds light on a common yet often overlooked aspect of sports coaching. It serves as a reminder that even at the highest levels of professional sports, cognitive biases can influence decisions, emphasizing the importance of objective analysis and critical thinking in sports strategy. For anyone involved in sports coaching, this study offers a valuable perspective on the intricacies of decision-making and the importance of learning from each game, win or lose.


Meier, P. F., Flepp, R., & Franck, E. (2023). Replication: Do coaches stick with what barely worked? Evidence of outcome bias in sports. Journal of Economic Psychology, 99, 102664. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2023.102664.

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