After England lost to Belgium last week, a media debate raged about whether Gareth Southgate, England’s manager, had made the right decision in fielding a weakened team.
As I listened to a radio show, caller after caller rang in to make their case. One side argued that losing the game was a disaster because it killed England’s momentum. The other argued that losing was fantastic because it dropped us into the easier side of the draw, meaning we’d play lower-ranked teams en route to the final.
I found myself wishing a behavioural scientist would call in (Adam, where were you?!) and set the debate to bed, because there’s absolutely no question that Gareth Southgate made the right decision.
Momentum in sport is a myth. One of the pioneers of behavioural science, Amos Tversky, cleared that one up with his paper on the ‘hot hand fallacy’. As does this paper, based on results from the Premier League.
The quality of the opposition, on the other hand, is not a myth. Some teams are genuinely better than others.
If you were Harry Kane, wouldn’t you rather face Switzerland with a bit less momentum than Brazil with a bit more?
So Gareth Southgate, Team Schwa has got your back.
Best of luck in Moscow.