This is a review of the NBA player performance under pressure research conducted by Matt Goldman and Justin M. Rao applying a random coefficient model.
Athletes are often praised or criticized for their performance under pressure. They are said to rise to the occasion or buckle under pressure. Studies have shown that amateur athletes do tend to perform worse when playing in pressure situations. The drop in performance is often caused by a tendency to self focus, or focus on each individual motion in an action rather just letting the body complete the action naturally or automatically. The question in this study is ‘how do elite athletes react to pressure during game situations?’
In order to accurately study the questions four criteria must be met: a well-defined action with a clear positive or negative outcome, a precise measurement of the importance or pressure of the situation, a large sample size of action in both high and low pressure situations, and actions made up of several different motor tasks. To meet these requirements the study looks at free throws and offensive rebounds in the NBA. In order to determine a precise measurement of the importance or pressure of the situation a model is created to estimate the value of a point scored at each moment in the game. The value is defined as the impact the point has on the probability the team will win the game.
The model determines the win probability of every regular season game from the 2005-2010 seasons during which time 360,000 free throws were attempted. Determining the probability a free throw will be made is done with a random coefficient model, which allows parameter values to fluctuate between players. The key points analyzed are if the shot is taken at home, the win value of the point, the point importance combined with the home dummy, which applies the differential impact of home pressure and the time remaining in the game.
The outcomes show that average NBA players perform slightly worse in moderate pressure level situations at home. However, increased pressure levels do not affect the visiting team in those same situations.
The home dummy coefficient provides an estimate of how home players respond in non-pressure situations, which is both positive and significant. In non-pressure situations, home team players are more accurate in their shooting ability than those playing for the visiting team. However, as the pressure increases visiting players fare better than the home team players. Overall, the performance of the better free-throw shooters is less likely to be affected by pressure, whether playing for the home or visiting team.
Offensive rebounding is looked at next as it takes place during the course of play, rather than when the game is stopped, as it is for free throws. Therefore, there is not the time to over think the process. Looking at offensive rebounding shows that it does not vary with increased pressure for either the home or visiting team. As points become more important later in the game, the home team gains a significant advantage over the visiting team in this area.
The results from the random coefficient model clearly indicate that pressure while playing at home does affect a player’s ability to make free throws. This would indicate that players would benefit from working with a sports psychologist to help become better able to handle the pressure and not let it affect their free throw ability in pressure situations.
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