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The hot hand effect in volleyball

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Belief in the hot hand in sports is the belief that someone who makes a shot has an increased probability of making the next shot (above what his or her long run stats would suggest), and that someone who misses a shot has a decreased probability of making the next shot (below what his or her long run stats would suggest).

There is much debate about the hot hand effect. The Wikipedia article on the topic calls it the hot hand fallacy, and the debate is whether it is really a fallacy. What if, in certain sports, there really are times when players are hot or cold relative to their long run averages? Belief in the hot hand would be sensible.

There is much written on the topic. JDMer Alan Reifman has a hot hand website and a hot hand book: Hot Hand: The Statistics Behind Sports’ Greatest Streaks

In a recent paper, Markus Raab et al. claim there is evidence of the hot hand in volleyball, and that it’s not a fallacy to believe in it there. According to Wikipedia, many in volleyball believe in and act on the hot hand effect. Alan Reifman has commented on it the Raab article here, with some suggested minor improvements.

Here’s the paper’s reference and abstract.

REFERENCE Raab, M., Gula, B. & Gigerenzer, G. (2011). The Hot Hand Exists in Volleyball and Is Used for Allocation Decisions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 18 (1), 81-94. [Download]


The “hot hand” belief in sports refers to the conviction that a player has a higher chance of making a shot after two or three successful shots than after two or three misses (resulting in “streaks”). This belief is usually considered a cognitive fallacy, although it has been conjectured that in basketball the defense will attack a “hot” player and prevent streaks from occurring. To address this argument, we provide the first study on the hot hand in volleyball, where the net limits direct defensive counterstrategies, meaning that streaks can more likely emerge if a player is hot. We first establish that athletes believe in the hot hand in volleyball (Study 1A). Analyzing the top 26 first-division players, we then show that streaks do exist for half of the players (Study 1B). Coaches can detect players’ performance variability and use it to make strategic decisions (Study 2A). Playmakers are also sensitive to streaks and rely on them when deciding to whom to allocate the ball (Study 2B). We conclude that for volleyball the hot hand exists, coaches and playmakers are able to detect it, and playmakers tend to use it “adaptively,” which results in more hits for a team.

Gilovich, Thomas; Tversky, A. & Vallone, R. (1985). “The Hot Hand in Basketball: On the Misperception of Random Sequences”. Cognitive Psychology 3 (17), 295–314

Photo credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/spasmoid/2224941051/


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