The Push and Pull of Statistics

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.


Numbers don’t lie. Numbers can be a tremendous tool to assist athletic development. But be careful, the slope can become a slippery one if an athlete becomes too fully immersed. There is a fine line between using numbers as an accurate measure for self-awareness (identify strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement); and inadvertently playing “scorekeeper” throughout practice and competitive endeavors. Numbers are helpful markers at the end of a performance, yet often serve as a distraction from competing well in the present. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when using statistics to enhance personal performance.

1. Time Matters:  A junior player and his father have been keeping close track of his driving statistics day-in and day-out. He averages 6 of 14 fairways hit per round. They decide for this junior to lower his scores he must hit more fairways. First thing the next morning, he goes out and works diligently on his ball-striking and driver on the range, making swing changes with his coach. He goes out that afternoon and hits 6 of 14 fairways again. This pattern continues for the next six days, which feels like an eternity for many developing athletes. The player has placed so much attention and effort on hitting more fairways, without seeing results that the junior is quickly losing confidence and gaining frustration. Tension is on the rise as a major tournament is quickly approaching.

After hearing his name announced, the player steps up to the long, tight par-4 opening hole. The player is so intently focused on hitting the fairway that his hands inadvertently squeeze the grip so tight his knuckles turn dead white. Following impact, both father and son watch helplessly as the ball squibs weakly into the right trees, muttering “Here we go again…” as they walk somberly up the first hole.

2. Challenge Matters: 

Day 1: It’s sunny, calm and 75-degrees. The golf course measures 6,800 yards with flagsticks placed securely in the center of huge greens. The player hits 10 greens in regulation. For a tour-caliber golfer that is well below average.

Day 2: It’s a blustery, sub-40 degree day with driving rain on a course measuring 7,300 yards. Flagsticks are tucked deeply in the corners of tiny amoeba-shaped greens. A round with 10 greens in regulation might lead the field in a professional event. So which one is it? Are 10 greens in regulation “good” or “bad” for 18 holes? The answer…it depends!

3. Correlation Matters:

Day 1: 30 putts with 18 greens in regulation (6 one-putts from inside 10-feet and the rest two-putts) – outstanding putting day with a total score of 6-under par 66.

Day 2: 30 putts with 6 greens in regulation (player chips it close every time and converts 6 one-putts from inside 10-feet and the rest two-putts) – poor putting day with a total score of 12-over par 84.

So which one is it? Are 30 putts “good” or “bad” for 18 holes? The answer…it depends!

Are numbers and statistics helpful to developing athletes? The answer…it depends! When calculated and utilized with little perspective in the short-term, statistics may actually reduce motivation and lead to decreased performance. When used thoughtfully in the long-term, these measurements can maximize training time and energy by focusing on key areas of athletic development. Decide what to work on and then get to work. It is human nature to be more critical of our weaknesses than to give credit for our strengths. To reduce this internal bias, great athletes monitor their statistics by entering them frequently and analyzing them infrequently. Good luck on your personal quest with the numbers game and when in doubt #PlayNowScorekeepLater.


1 Response to “The Push and Pull of Statistics”

  1. 1 AHNaylor December 27, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Really solid post. When the athlete steps into the arena, some stats are better than others. A few I like:

    In baseball one’s batting average really doesn’t matter until the season is over. Regular quality at bats take precedence over today’s average…

    In the Q a few stats are tracked each game that equal competitiveness in my mind. Good hits, danger shots, and face offs one. The puck may not bounce right some nights, but if the previous stats are strong you’re likely to find a focused, aggressive, and persistent team…

    Many stats are great for statisticians… unfortunately most that step on the playing field would rather be players… as Matt notes, there’s a real Jekyll and Hyde nature to many numbers.

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