Hot Hands

For those of us amateurs that struggle from week to week with our bowling scores, wondering why this week strikes are elusive when last week our hand was hot and the pins fell like drunken sailors, we may be groping towards an answer.

When it’s our week to be on a roll, our confidence grows as we roll one strike and then another. The next frame should give us that turkey, shouldn’t it? Our team members would, of course agree, but what are the casual observers saying who are viewing your rolling more like tossing a coin than appreciating your skill?

The problem of whether a sportsman does periodically go through a hot hand phase has been studied in the past. From the sportsman side, a certain amount of superstition appears on the scene with lucky mascots, clothes etc. The subject has now been re-opened by tossing the results from almost half a million frames rolled by 100 top rank professional bowlers into a large computer at Yale U (1). The work has been written up by Yaari and David and published in this week’s Public Library of Science.

The stats were elegantly handled and the results were clear and contradict earlier studies. There is indeed a hot hand effect in that we get runs of high scores. Hooray! All we need to do is schedule them back-to-back, maybe?

The bad news for us dodos is that they are only temporal clusters in probability and we are not getting it all together and that we are feeding back skill-based information to our next throw.

So we’re back to putting in our 10,000 hours of practice and hope that we do have some talent to build on, but more importantly, that our joints will hold out.


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