Luck, Skill and Sport – A Tricky Relationship

roulette-eonlinecasinoLuck has a very tricky relationship with sport. I remember once sitting down with a coach and mentioning the word ‘luck’, it was in relation to one of his players having won a game with a last minute shot from a tricky angle. It was a fantastic shot and lead to an exhilarating win, but there was an element of luck involved in the shot. It was from an area of the pitch that the average player can expect to score about 40% of the time.

When I mentioned that there was a large chunk of luck involved in that shot and hence the win – I may as well have called one of the coach’s children ugly for the reaction I got. The word luck seems to imply that the shot was 100% luck rather than some skill AND some luck. I was not saying that the player involved isn’t skill-full or that he hadn’t worked hard to reach his level of proficiency. But rather there is an element of randomness about that shot. Some weeks it will go over some it won’t.

Despite the reaction I got in that instance, luck or randomness is something that needs to be considered by all management teams.  How much and how often will vary from sport to sport but nonetheless it is always present.  How I convey that message with the teams I work with in the future will probably change but improving my understanding of luck is important. So with that in mind below are 4 great reads on understanding more about luck.

1. Luck, A Fresh Look at Fortune, Ed Smith

ed-smith-luckThis is my current read and I’m loving it. In fact most of what Smith writes this days is a must read for me. Here is what Amazon say about the book;

For aspiring cricketer Ed Smith, luck was for other people. Ed believed that the successful cricketer made his own luck by an application of will power, elimination of error, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. But when a freak accident at the crease at Lords prematurely ended Ed Smith’s international cricketing career, it changed everything – and prompted him to look anew at his own life through the prism of luck.

Check it out on Amazon. 

2. Against The Gods, The Remarkable Story of Risk

against-the-godsIt’s a long time since I read this, in fact this book was published in 1998 and it makes me feel a lot older than I am to think there will be people reading this blog that weren’t born when that book was published!!

A Business Week, New York Times Business, and USA Today Bestseller “Ambitious and readable . . . an engaging introduction to the oddsmakers, whom Bernstein regards as true humanists helping to release mankind from the choke holds of superstition and fatalism.” — The New York Times “An extraordinarily entertaining and informative book.” — The Wall Street Journal “A lively panoramic book . . . Against the Gods sets up an ambitious premise and then delivers on it.” — Business Week “Deserves to be, and surely will be, widely read.” — The Economist “[A] challenging book, one that may change forever the way people think about the world.” — Worth “No one else could have written a book of such central importance with so much charm and excitement.”

Check it out on Amazon. 

3. Fooled By Randomness, The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in Markets


I’m yet to read this one but by all accounts in a must read in the luck genre. It will be in my next Amazon order.

This book is the word-of-mouth sensation that will change the way you think about business and the world. It is all about luck: more precisely, how we perceive luck in our personal and professional experiences. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the markets – we hear an entrepreneur has ‘vision’ or a trader is ‘talented’, but all too often their performance is down to chance rather than skill. It is only because we fail to understand probability that we continue to believe events are non-random, finding reasons where none exist.

Check it out on Amazon. 

4. The Success Equation, Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing. Michael Mauboussin

the success equationI’ve written about this book a few times before here and here. It’s a must read and there is a large focus on sports throughout this book.

What role, exactly, do skill and luck play in our successes and failures? Some games, like roulette and the lottery, are pure luck. Others, like chess, exist at the other end of the spectrum, relying almost wholly on the skill of the players. But in every other domain–from business, to investing, to sports–skill and luck seem almost hopelessly entangled.

Check it out on Amazon. 



Rob Carroll. Founder of The Video Performance Analyst. Always learning.