In Defense of Trusting Your Gut

As the NCAA Tournament proves every year, as long as randomness reigns there will always be a place in sports for trusting your gut feeling. Pictured: Darnell Harris of 15 seed Middle Tennessee during their win over #2 seed Michigan State. (Getty Images)

As the NCAA Tournament proves every year, as long as randomness reigns there will always be a place in sports for trusting your gut feeling. Pictured: Darnell Harris of #15 seed Middle Tennessee during their win over #2 seed Michigan State. (Getty Images)

Jim Bearor

You’re watching sports with someone at the bar. They tell you that they have a feeling about what is going to happen next.  They don’t supply any real coherent explanation or data to support their prediction, they just have a hunch.

These kinds of hunches are frail and easily forgotten.  They don’t hold much weight in a serious conversation, because it always seems to come down to numbers and history.  Sport discussions work this way for good reason. Numbers only lie sometimes, and without them, you wouldn’t have any ammunition to put a delusional homer in his place. Of course, numbers and records do exist, and they’re more accessible than ever before.  The endgame of many sports arguments nowadays is a quick Google search to compare stats. If the bulk of information gathered says your hunch is wrong, you often kill it in your head before even mentioning it.

All coaches, general managers, and decision makers outside of sports have had thought processes similar to this. Everybody has hunches. Everybody has been told to listen to their gut, follow their heart, and trust their intuition.  This is sound advice, but that doesn’t mean your instincts are never going to fail you, especially when dealing with professional sports. The sensation you feel when you’re faced with a tough decision, the pull towards a certain response, the voice consulting you from the back of your head, a lot of it is built off of your experiences, and how things played out then.

Obviously there are other factors at play, and the mind is a notorious trickster. The voice in your head isn’t always so kind, and it changes form person to person.  One guy may struggle to break free of a bad pattern, and another has too much ego to listen to reason and learn. Everyone has their pitfalls, but some people are better at recognizing them and acting accordingly.  The ones who take a step back and make an honest attempt at objectivity are the ones who can usually trust their gut.

As homers and people who can’t help but be biased sometimes, we see a game play out differently.  We’re usually more in tune with our favorite teams and their tendencies because we follow every game, not just the big ones. We might have a soft spot for a player who really isn’t as good as our idea of him, like we unfairly tend to designate a certain few players as scapegoats.  It’s hard to shake some of these deeply rooted ways of thought, and you shouldn’t always try to.

Viewing games objectively provides a more balanced perspective, but there’s also value in being a die hard fan.  Nobody can accuse John Sterling or Suzyn Waldman of being fair, but you shouldn’t doubt that they know their shit — not about baseball, about the New York Yankees. Bill Simmons came up as the Boston Sports Guy with an unabashed bias towards his Celtics, and he’s as knowledgeable as anyone who watches basketball.

If you have a rooting interest, and you put considerable time and energy into following a team or an athlete, you’re going to see them through a different lens than someone who skims box scores and watches ESPN. So maybe you’re deeply knowledgeable in some areas instead of being more well-rounded. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just means your gut feeling is a result of different experiences than the guy or gal who is a fan of the league as a whole.

What I think I’m getting to is that we should trust our gut more often. If you are a true fan of a sport who has seen countless games and are able to see things objectively, your hunches are probably good ones.  Die hard fans who take blogs and podcasts with their daily vitamins are capable of understanding a sport just as well as some of the talking heads on television.  That doesn’t mean you should spout off about your team like you’ve earned the right through years of devout fanhood and you have all the answers.  You don’t, so don’t be that guy none of us want to talk to.  The best any of us can come up with is an educated guess that is almost certainly tinged with at least a little bit of bias, the kind that’s stained on.

Then again,. that’s really the best anyone can do.  You can be brilliant and have all the information, but you can’t tell the future and sports has a tendency to be unpredictable as shit (case in point: March Madness).  When something happens in a game that you didn’t account for, or you misjudged something, it shouldn’t make you doubt your knowledge.  Sometimes there isn’t a precursor to a big event, and things may not follow the exact pattern you thought they would. But other times, the game plays out just like you saw it in your head, and it’s these moments that should reinforce your belief that you know something about sports.

JimBearor– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)



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