Lots of people have an erroneous idea of what “odds” mean in certain circumstances.

When you throw a pair of dice, the odds that any one particular combination comes up is one out of 36 because there are only 36 possibilities. Assuming the dice are fair, each of the 36 possibilities is just as likely to come up as the other 35 possibilities. It all depends on the force of the throw, the angle, the landing surface and so on. The result is totally random.

Therefore, when bookies talk about the results of sports and use the same time of mathematical language about the odds and the probability of which team we will, many people forget that athletes are not dice. And the way that sporting contests play out are infinitely varied, not fixed at 36. The results are not totally random. The variables are incredibly complicated.

Most obviously, athletes are not dice. They have minds, feelings and goals. They can feel motivated or de-motivated. In any particular game, they may be recovering from overtraining or may be in the Zone.

A blog post on the site of VTA Publications makes this same point using the 1980 ice hockey event as an example.

The Soviet team had dominated the event for many years, and were known as the “Red Machine.” In an exhibition game, they trashed an all-star team of National Hockey League players. How could the American team of rookies challenge them?

He conditioned them physically so they could skate at full speed through the full game. None of them were stars, so he trained them to work together as a team. They learned how to play with each other, so they were mentally ahead of the puck, and also knew where their team members were.

Against all the odds, they reached the semi-finals, where they faced the Soviet team. The bookies said the odds were 10 to 1 against them.

Their coach, Herb Brooks, gave a locker room speech before the game. He told them, “Tonight is the one night we can win.”

In other words, the odds didn’t matter. They couldn’t play ten games and lose nine times, as though they were dice. They would play one game. They had to choose to win that game, tonight.

That’s your life. Average odds against success are for average people who put in average effort.

Put in the effort it takes to succeed no matter what everybody else does.

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