On The Basketball Court, Confidence Is The Dog That Barks But Never Bites

Don't let Neal Anderson's quiet pre-game demeanor fool you. Once he steps on the court, he's a cold-blooded killer.

Don't let Neal Anderson's quiet pre-game demeanor fool you. Once he steps on the court, he's a cold-blooded killer.

My typical morning- which is often anything but typical with children ages three and eight-months- usually starts with a morning run. On most of my runs, my listening choice is podcasts.

One of my favorites of the past week was a Harvard Business Review’s podcast titled The Dangers Of Confidence featuring Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor at University College London, on how confidence masks incompetence.

Chamorro-Premuzic’s key point is confidence only translates into subsequent competence IF it was produced by competence gains in the first place. That is, if your confidence gains are not the result of actual competence gains beforehand, the only effects they will have is to distort reality, make you feel better (for a short time), and harm your self-improvement chances.

My favorite line of Chamorro-Premuzic’s in the podcast, which I tweeted earlier this week, was “Confidence is the dog that barks but doesn’t bite.”

I related the line to basketball and how often, in my experiences, the most outwardly confident basketball player, usually the loudest and most boastful when they walk on the court, are often the less competent basketball players.

Conversely, the players who have continually stuck a daggers in me playing pickup and league games over the years have almost exclusively been inwardly confident players.

The player who walks on the court chirping in every player’s ear about his mad skills, I pay no attention to. They’re not the ones I fear.

What gets my attention is the player who comes to the court saying nothing. And as John Thomas pointed out to me recently, if they’re wearing flip-flops, (a sign of a true baller, argues JT) your fear factor should be even higher.

These players quietly sit, lace up their kicks and then scan the competition on the court like a cheetah- motionless- before their game begins. Eyes scanning back & forth. Sizing up their prey.  They repeat this routine every time they play, no matter where they play or who they play.

Then they stand up, jerk back their shoulders, roll their necks a few times to loosen up and walk onto the court with a swagger. Expressionless.  Focused. Silent. But still with that swagger.

When I think of UH league players who fit this type, two names come to mind- Paris Kyles and Neal Anderson, two of the most prolific players in league history. 

For Anderson and Kyles, their confidence is inward, their competence outward. Those are the types of players when I see walk on the court, I start to feel like the prey.