Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The logic of life ... Ultimate?

I read one of those books that makes you think. I really enjoyed "The Logic of Life" by Tim Harford much like I enjoy most economic conversation books. I could talk about some of the fascinating ideas that the book brought up about prostitution, why we live in cities, and how neighbourhoods work, but this is an Ultimate blog, so let's relate it to Ultimate.

Pictured Above: More great GUT shots. Here we see the eventual winners, team USA in white, setting up for the throw.

One of the driving concepts in book is the rational approach we, people, all take, whether conscious or unconscious. This rational choice dictates how we behave. This concept when applied to Ultimate might give us some insight. If we could break down and understand why we play the sport at different levels, then players and coaches might have a better understanding of how to drive teams and individuals towards their goals.

With Ultimate, the starting point lies in the fact that we don't make money in this sport (or generate a gross income). This means we need to examine the other base costs of our game.

First off, we can look at the negative costs:
  • Time - practice, travel, weekend and holiday time, league nights, socializing... It's a major cost that trades off friends and family for Ultimate (which includes some friends and family).
  • Money - equipment, travel, fees, and, arguably most important, lost opportunity cost (my friend Phil's thinking).
  • Body Damage - this sport can hurt.
There are all sorts of other costs, but these costs drive us away from playing the sport (especially at a high level). The key thing is we need to understand what are the positive counter costs.
  • Social - the people that play Ultimate, and the people you meet make this game great. Also, the events that we participate including tournaments and games are fun.
  • Health - pretty simple statement is Ultimate is a great form of exercise.
  • Competition - Ultimate and it's developing stage means you can experience competition at a high level very quickly. Regardless of level, we all like to compete.
  • Fame - we all like to be known. Ultimate is no exception, and people like to be famous. It's always fun to tell someone outside the sport, such as friends and family, that you play Ultimate at a regional, national, or international level in a sport.
  • Challenge - learning and achieving bring great joy to most people.
Again, I'm missing all the factors, but for all of us that play Ultimate, we play because group 2 out weighs group 1. If you question why you are playing Ultimate, then the advantages of group 2 are not big enough compared group 1.

The next question is, can you use this knowledge, if you could understand these costs realtive to yourself and your team? As a coach or captain, it does help to understand how much social versus how much competition a team needs. If this is unbalanced for your team, then you'll lose people as their cost functions shift to group 1. This emphasizes the importance of making a team ethos so that up front people know what they're getting involved in.

The unfortunate reality, is that all these costs both in group 1 and group 2 are not independent of one another. As usual these things are comples. More competition means more costs since you, likely, have to travel further. Health and body damage are in direct contrast to each other.

I'm still working out how to evaluate myself and my teams in terms of my/their motivations, but being aware of these concepts gives you a rough tool that can help you understand team and individual behaviour, especially in tough times.



Bill Mill said...

I frequently question whether club ultimate is worth the opportunity cost, which is rather staggering.

Kirker said...

i don't like such an analytical approach. first, because it's too difficult to list all the variables/factors. second, because--to a large extent-- our brains do this "life math" for us with the resulting output being "emotions".

the reason most people play ultimate is because the net experience is really really fun. so much so that we are willing to overlook/ignore many of the sacrifices we make. the moment that the costs become substantive (i.e., relationships, work, finances suffer) then your brain will stop finding it so fun (ie, playing on the weekend is really fun, but getting yelled at by my girlfriend and being put on probation at work is really really not fun). at this point, i suspect you'd slowly find yourself liking ultimate less and less. sort of like how the rat slowly stops pressing the bar that gives him a food pellet when the same bar-press gives him an electric shock.

this is just my take. that said, it wouldn't surprise me if someone lost their job, partner and declared personal bankruptcy to continue playing ulty. in fact, i think i know a few ...