Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Stats for Parents and Players

I often talk about how a Discover magazine article from some time ago transformed my perspective on parenting and coaching. It was all about how we can be misled by randomness. Recently, I came across a short clip that emphasized the importance of teaching our children statistics instead of just focusing on calculus. As a parent, I found this video to be incredibly insightful and thought-provoking.

The Impact of Smarts

As my son prepares to start his journey at Princeton next fall, where he will be playing volleyball and pursuing his education, I couldn’t help but reflect on his intelligence and hard work. Unlike myself, he is exceptionally intelligent. However, I’ve noticed him get frustrated with his peers who may not be as academically inclined. This led me to have a conversation with him about statistics.

Understanding Intelligence

In the United States, for example, with a population of approximately 300 million people, there will inevitably be an average level of intelligence, which falls at 50 percent. This means that about 150 million people will have to be at or below average in terms of intelligence. It’s important to realize that being above average doesn’t necessarily mean being significantly smarter than others. It simply means that a larger number of the people you meet will make more mistakes and poor decisions compared to you.

The Lesson on Smarts

I explained to my son that if someone is in the top 10 percent in terms of intelligence, it’s likely that 9 out of 10 people they encounter in their daily lives will make more errors and poor decisions. I emphasized that getting frustrated or spending the majority of his time exasperated by others’ shortcomings would only hinder his own progress. Instead, he should focus on what he can control and work through any challenges or mistakes that may arise due to others’ actions.

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Applying Statistics to Volleyball

The same concept applies to volleyball. In any given team, half of the players will be above average, while the other half will be below average. However, those who consistently work hard and train deliberately to improve their skills can raise their overall average performance, giving themselves a better chance of starting over their peers.

Perceptions and Reality

As parents, we often get fooled by randomness and fall victim to what I like to call the “Puppy Dog Syndrome.” Just as new puppy owners fail to notice their dog’s growth because they see it every day, we sometimes fail to see our children’s growth in sports. We tend to focus too much on the results of each match or tournament, rather than acknowledging the progress they make over time.

Embracing the Learning Process

It’s crucial to understand that during each practice and every tournament, players will perform above their average ability half the time and below their average the other half. This is simply a natural part of the learning process and the random nature of the game. Parents and coaches should embrace the ebb and flow of performance, avoiding panic or disappointment when their child’s performance falls below average.

The Importance of Practice

One of the key purposes of practice is to expose players to challenging and adverse situations that they may encounter in competition. By creating an environment where players can problem-solve and adapt to changing circumstances, coaches help them become comfortable with the chaos of the game. This way, when unexpected situations arise during matches, players can rely on their training and experience to navigate through them without relying on constant guidance from the coach.

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Focus on Mastery, Not Winning

It’s important to remember that in the world of volleyball, just like in any competitive sport, about half the teams end up losing. However, viewing losing as a personal failure is a misguided perspective. Instead, we should focus on long-term development and mastery of skills rather than fixating on immediate outcomes. As parents, we should support our children’s effort and hustle, even during times when their performance falls below average. It’s about raising the average hustle level and striving to be better, regardless of the outcome of each match.

Embracing Imperfection

Referees also make mistakes, not intentionally, but as a natural part of their judgment process. It’s essential to acknowledge that just like players, referees have an average level of performance. By striving to reduce their standard deviation and increase their overall average through experience, referees can enhance their judgment skills. This improvement can only come through practical experience and actively officiating matches.

Overcoming Illusory Superiority

Studies have shown that the majority of people tend to believe they are above average in terms of intelligence, even though statistically, this is impossible. This phenomenon is known as “Illusory Superiority” or the “Lake Woebegone effect,” referencing a fictional town where all the children are believed to be above average. The same can be said for parents who often perceive their child’s volleyball skills to be exceptional. It’s important to recognize that performance will vary and that half the time will be spent below average. By focusing on long-term progress and consistent support, we can help our children reach their full potential on the court.

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Q: How do statistics impact performance in volleyball?

A: Statistics play a significant role in understanding performance in volleyball. They can help players and coaches identify areas for improvement, set goals, and track progress. By analyzing statistics, teams can develop strategies, make informed decisions, and enhance overall performance.

Q: How can parents support their child’s development in volleyball?

A: Parents can support their child’s development in volleyball by providing encouragement and maintaining a positive attitude. It’s important to focus on long-term growth and improvement rather than immediate results. Additionally, parents can help by ensuring their child receives proper training, prioritizing skill development, and fostering a love for the sport.

Q: How can players raise their average performance in volleyball?

A: Players can raise their average performance in volleyball by training hard and practicing deliberately. Consistent effort, dedication, and a growth mindset are key. It’s essential to focus on improving weaknesses, expanding skill sets, and embracing challenges. Additionally, seeking guidance from knowledgeable coaches and learning from experienced players can contribute to overall improvement.


In the world of sports, statistics and averages play a crucial role. Understanding that performance naturally fluctuates, parents and players can navigate the highs and lows of the game with resilience and a growth mindset. By embracing the learning process, focusing on skills development, and supporting one another, families can make the most of the journey in volleyball. Remember, it’s not just about winning but also about personal growth and becoming the best version of oneself on and off the court.

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