When a player struggles, the basket seems to get smaller and people say, “You couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean.” When a player is on fire, the basket looks huge. Traditionally, this phenomenon was explained by confidence and psychology. However, a new study suggests that when a player struggles, the basket literally looks smaller.
In a study of 23 non-football athletes who each kicked 10 field goals, researchers found that players’ performance directly affected their perception of the size of the goal: After a series of missed kicks, athletes perceived the post to be taller and more narrow than before, while successful kicks made the post appear larger-than-life.
In the famous scene from Hoosiers, Gene Hackman walks into the arena, and measures the height of the basket to prove that playing in the big arena was the same as playing at their high school because every basket in every gym is the same. However, this study contradicts this idea, as it suggests that the size of the basket changes based on our perception.
“The reason why this is so radical is that perception has always been conceived as being all about information received by the eye,” said psychology researcher Jessica Witt of Purdue University, who co-authored the paper published last month in Perception. “In my studies we keep all the optical information constant, so the eye is seeing the exact same info Ã¢â‚¬â€ but it looks different depending on performance.”
Therefore, learning to deal with a missed shot becomes even more important and goes beyond confidence.