Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Law of Competitive Balance


Bill James (my favorite baseball author) developed a theory to explain how sport performance develops over time.  He called it "the Law of Competitive Balance."  Here is a simplified explanation from one of James' books:

The law of competitive balance: Teams which win tend to slack off.  They don't work as hard; they don't take risks to make themselves better.  They think defensively. But when a team combines the talent of a championship team with the attitude of a runner-up, the combination can produce -- historically, often has produced -- a team of exceptional quality.

There is a bit more to James' law, but you get the idea.

If you buy in to the law of competitive balance, you'll find:

Winning consistently -- like Armstrong's 6 consecutive TDFs or Halden SKs' string of Tiomilas -- is especially rare and impressive.

Teams and individuals that win consistently have probably gotten lucky or figured out a way to keep "the attitude of a runner-up."

Working hard and taking risks is easier when you've been close to a goal, but haven't quite reached it.  (As an aside, I think people who design gambling machines understand the same thing and design machines to keep you feeding money into the machine while teasing you with the impression that you almost won). 

posted by Michael | 7:31 PM


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