Teams perform better when led by overconfident coaches, study finds

MOSCOW — Don’t underestimate the power of good leadership in sports. A coach’s overconfidence plays a notably significant role in a team’s performance, at least in the game of soccer, a recent study finds.

Researchers from the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Russia broke down the behavior of soccer coaches in the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) and found that overconfidence and its resulting influence on decision-making on the field has a positive effect. The authors considered that perhaps too much confidence could be a bad thing, pointing to previous studies that showed overconfident people tend to overlook risks and make poorer decisions, particularly in the financial sector. But such research hadn’t been applied to athletic coaching.

Soccer coach
A coach’s overconfidence plays a notably significant role in a team’s performance, at least in the game of soccer, a recent study finds.

The study analyzed the head coaches of all RFPL teams between 2010 and 2014.

“As indicators of the effectiveness of teams, we used the average number of points scored per game over the season, the average number of goals scored, and the average number of goals allowed. The coaches’ overconfidence was assessed using a press-based metric based on the opinion of the media about the behavior of the coach. This measurement was originally proposed in corporate finance studies,” explains Marina Zavertiaeva, lead researcher of the study, in a university release.

Zavertiaeva and her team analyzed reports in the media covering the teams, looking for associations of confidence and overconfidence, such as the words “optimistic,” “proud,” “decisive” and others near head coaches’ names and the names of their teams. Words like “pessimistic,” “careful,” and “modest” showed that a coach tended to err more on the cautious side. Using these quotes, the authors calculated the level of extreme confidence a coach showed.

The researchers found that the most overconfident coaches had a positive influence on the outcomes of a contest. Their belief in their team indicated higher levels of charisma which tended to motivate the players more than less confident coaches. The highest level of confidence during the time period studied belonged to former CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky. His team earned the highest points won per game, with more than two.

In relation to previous research indicating that greater confidence led to more risk-taking, the researchers found no correlation between the two in ways that earlier studies showed with financial decisions.

The full study was published Feb. 5, 2017 in the journal International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching.

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