Journal of Human Sport and Exercise

The hot hand phenomenon: measurement issues using golf as an exemplar

Luke Heath, Nic James, Leon Smart



The so called “hot hand” phenomenon (phrase coined by American basketball fans) refers to the commonly held belief amongst sports fans, coaches and players that sports players can, on occasion, produce sequences of consistently superior (compared to their normal) performance. Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky (1985) first alerted the scientific community to this phenomenon but concluded that the belief in the hot hand was nothing more than a misperception of random sequences. Researchers have argued that the statistical methods used to test the hypothesis of randomness and its antithesis streakiness (a more inclusive term for hot hand) were flawed. Golf was used as an exemplar for a sport where there is no clear success and fail outcome, unlike basketball shooting. Success in golf has usually been compared against “par or better” or “birdie or better” although these measures are the same for all players irrespective of their standard and don’t account for the hole difficulty on the day the hole is played. A momentum chart was used to identify potentially streaky performance and this data was then compared with the non-streaky data using the chi square test of independence. This approach would seem to satisfy a perceived limitation in previous approaches to evaluating streakiness where the whole sequence of performances is assessed for streakiness as opposed to just the streaky portions. Furthermore this approach allows streaky performance to contain a few non-successful performances. However future research needs to test this methodology out more rigorously using an appropriate criterion for success that is relevant to the skill level of the performer and the hole difficulty.




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