Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sports Predictions: the Art of Covering your Ass

Predictions are a big part of sports reporting and journalism. Fans expect that long-time writers have built up a wealth of knowledge over the years and should be able to offer credible forecasts backed up with detailed and believable reasoning. The writers themselves do little to dispel that notion and will on occasion play up the myth that "it's really not as easy as it seems."

A necessary and almost subconscious practice of those in the non-technical professions is to validate their own worth by hinting at what a rarified field they operate in. However, the unpleasant reality that gnaws away at all spewers of half-baked predictions is that the nature of the game makes consistent accuracy almost impossible. Which is why hedging is such an important part of the hockey writer's arsenal.

When the reality of your guesses are shown to be equivalent to that of a retarded baboon randomly plucking teams and numbers out of a hat, you can legitimately refer to the litany of qualifying statements you've made along the way.

Here, then, is a hockey writer's guide for covering your ass and laying down as many escape hatches as possible.

First, point to things such as randomness, luck, parity and the much loved "intangibles" as a way to insulate yourself against the inevitable results that see your prognostications driven face first into the boards.

Make sure to lace your predictions with as many of these types of words as possible: should, could, might, may, can, probably, possibly and likely, to name a few of the best.

Almost as important as those words are conditional statements, with the small but mighty "if" providing a wide range of face-saving possibilities.

"If, on the other hand, the Bruins do what many have expected for a long time, you can discount my previous prediction."

"If Player X returns to form, it's a whole different hockey game..."

"If I weren't such an equivocating son-of-a-bitch, you might actually have a real statement you could hold me to..."

These types of rationalizing, mealy-mouthed utterances are also good for laying an over the top lambasting on whichever team you may have a serious hate-on for. Spew all the vitriol necessary and then end the rant with something along the lines of:

"Don't get me wrong, I hope they do perform to their potential and start racking up some wins. If they turn things around in the next ten games, I'll be the first one to admit I was wrong."

Y'see, it 's all in the spirit of helping them to improve. A stern, tough-love dismantling of the team in question that allows the acidic verbiage to flow with abandon.

Together with ramming any particular column full of enough weasel words to make a politician proud, it is essential to drop at least a few self-deprecating comments to let your readers know just what a good natured, down to earth good 'ol boy you really are.

"Not that my record in these matters is anything to be proud of but I'll plow ahead with my picks anyway..."

The overall goal when making predictions is to create as many possible outs so that when you're predictions fail miserably, you can credibly absolve yourself of complete ineptitude.

Never return to specific picks that highlight you as a jacked-up amateur with a serious drinking problem. Instead, only offer up jesting, good-natured general comments about your questionable predictions. The kind of statements that make people think you don't take yourself too seriously.

Close with a positive statement that creates a sense of anticipation for the coming game, series or season while further shrouding your picks in a kind of vague and hazy mist of secondary importance. It is unlikely you will ever reference the predictions you made, except in the rare instances when they somehow pan out.

Relegating your blunders to the fog of the past is important for the hockey forecaster. Just as crucial though, is that when the law of averages shines favourably on your wild swings in the dark, remind your audience of those instances at every possible opportunity.

2 comments:

  1. Like you I hate predictions. I hate even more having to make predictions, especially for an 82-game season that stretches from October to April because of so many intangibles. Still, it's something that's also expected by readership at a certain time of year. Fans seem to enjoy reading them as it's a good topic of debate amongst themselves and also allows them the opportunity to question your predictions ("Whaddya mean the (insert team name here) will miss the playoffs? Are your on drugs??").

    The same goes for playoff predictions, although those tend to be somewhat easier over the course of a seven game series, but they get tougher as the playoffs progress. Still, it's something that's expected and the fans enjoy debating/discussing those predictions too.

    I'm with the late, great Toe Blake: "Predictions are for gypsies!"

    Cheers,

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree with you regarding the fact that it seems expected. They also seem to be some of the most popular posts and articles on various blogs.

    Another aspect that probably makes them popular is people seeking out odds for the purpose of betting.

    ReplyDelete