Confirmation Bias In Sports Betting & How To Avoid It

Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias that involves favouring information that confirms what you already believe to be true. And that’s very dangerous in sports betting, or any form of gambling for that matter.

Being aware of confirmation bias in sports betting has not only improved my ability as a sports bettor, but it has also altered my way of thinking across others areas of my life. It’s made me more inquisitive, more analytical, more logical, and it has contributed to my ability to make wise decisions in my businesses. So sports betting isn’t so bad after all.


The Dangers of Confirmation Bias In Sports Betting

One of the biggest problems in any form of gambling is that it punishes those who falsely believe they’re onto a winning thing when in fact they’re not. It prevents bettors from exploring new, and potentially better, avenues that do work.

A typical scenario that affects gambler’s (of all intelligence levels I might add) is devising a form of strategy, or staking plan that appears to generate a profit, only for it to plummet later on down the line.

Gamblers often feel “confirmation” of their methodology or viewpoints after winning several bets and observing a positive outcome, only to lose large sums of money when they invest more money into it. In most cases, it was always destined to fail, but the gambler failed to see it.

Running this site has proven to me that it can be very hard to encourage a gambler to alter their line of thinking, and change course.


“Making Money” vs “Made Money”

In sports betting there’s a huge distinction to be made between an approach that’s “making money” and one that’s “made money”.

  • Something that’s making money is destined to do so in the long-run because it has some form of advantage that doesn’t rely on luck. Downturns and bad runs will happen, of course.
  • Something that’s made money has turned a profit — but that’s not to say it has any form of advantage that’s likely to yield positive results. There’s no guarantees.

Many gamblers will automatically assume that the latter implies that their approach to sports betting is working. And that’s, unfortunately, a naïve way of thinking.

Confirmation bias is tough to avoid while you’re actively looking for an edge that’ll generate you a profit. You’ll always want to see positive results. But speaking from experience, it’s best to automatically assume that any betting system you devise will fail until you’ve fully convinced yourself otherwise. Be as thorough as possible.

This advice may sound pessimistic, but I believe that remaining patient and being critical of your own strategies — particularly when they show early signs of promise — will spare you an enormous amount of money as well as disappointment.


Challenging Confirmation Bias In Life

This may sound unusual, but the process of trial & error / success & failure in creating sports betting strategies has made a huge impression on my life. I think differently about a lot of things.


Analysing sports betting of course changes the way you see sport. As a football fan and casual 5 aside player, I’ve become more aware of what’s really working for my team and what’s pure luck (and therefore cannot be sustained). I’ll explain.

One observation I’ve made is that at all levels of football there’s a guy that tries the outrageous every single game: 50 yard strikes, an impossible run through five defenders, nutmegs, the risky backheel. You get the picture, and you know that guy.

The problem is, when one of those plays comes off, that particular player usually receives full confirmation that what he/she did was the “right” move. In professional football the fans, players, pundits, tabloids all contribute to the affirmation. As a result, that player continues to attempt the same move again and again; it worked out before, so why not?

Rationally, everyone knows that an effective player is selective in making those moves, while a ineffective player keeps going for glory when the opportunity isn’t on. Similarly a weak gambler will win a bet, believe the hype, and then continuing to bet the same way on the basis that it ‘worked’ once; that’s the trap you need to avoid falling into.

All kinds of moves and decisions during football are credited for “working”. Yet a more analytical mind would question “if you did that 1,000 times over, would it work more often than not?”. It’s these kinds of thought processes that, as a result of trawling through spreadsheets with thousands of data points, I can’t help but have.

Thinking more analytically about the game has had a positive impact in terms of playing it myself. I’ll often question things I’ve done in a game and try to determine whether it really improved my team’s chances of winning and, importantly, whether it can be applied in future fixtures… or if it was all down to luck.

Online Business

Making an online sale gives a positive feeling that’s very similar to that of winning a bet. And there are many other parallels between sports betting and running a business — such as the fact that you’ll eventually fail if you sell a poor product.

Another obvious similarity between business and sports betting is that once you get a taste of success you’ll want to find ways to capitalise and expand. In the case of an online business, you’ll inevitably look towards marketing and advertising as a way to increase sales. In sport betting you may seek different markets and sports as a way to expand.

I recall a particular Facebook advertising campaign that I ran a couple of years back for my goalkeeper glove business. It appeared to produce fantastic results, drawing in multiple sales on it’s first day, and generating a tidy ROI. It looked destined to succeed — but the campaign, along with several others, rarely produced such positive spells going forward and became a disappointment. It didn’t work out in the end, and it was important to accept that and let go of the initial promise I saw.

But on the flip side, some of the slow-starting marketing campaigns began to yield results over a much longer period of time — some of which I still benefit from today.

So the message here is clear: just because something started out well doesn’t mean it will continue to do so. And conversely, just because something didn’t work initially, doesn’t mean it’s not eventually going to.

In sports betting, as well as in business, the key is not investing everything all at once just because promising results confirmed your biases. It’s important to keep multiple strategies running, to monitor progress, to refine your process as much as possible and, all the while, be patient. This is what leads to success — or a least avoids huge failures.

Home Renovation Projects

As ludicrous as it sounds, I think sports analytics has even impacted my approach to projects around the home.

Recently I’ve renovated a garage, turning it into an office and living space. One of the hurdles I overcame in this project was building a raised floor. I completed it, and it looked brilliant, everyone told me how neat it was… I wanted to believe that was true. But I tested it thoroughly, jumped around on it, practically tried to break it, and decided it wasn’t strong enough underfoot — so I ripped it all up, and rebuilt the floor all over again. Everyone thought I was crazy.

One thing that number crunching has taught me is that is that hoping for the best simply isn’t enough. If there’s a weakness, it’ll be exposed in time. So for me, it’s not about doing what’s sufficient. Things needs to work properly, or else I know I’m destined to be back to square one again, wasting more time and money in the long run. So what’s the relevance to sports betting and confirmation bias?

Something can look great on the surface, and receive widespread acclaim. But if the strategy/viewpoint is based on a very flimsy or insufficient pattern of data without any solid foundations, then that weakness will eventually be exposed.

This situation impacts a lot of punters that follow tipsters. Promising results are very often based on a small data set, or a trend that’s only short-lived. A sports betting edge built on just one very specific standpoint rarely sustains for the long-term, because variables change and competition for odds arises. Opportunities close. Some opportunities were just noise all along.

So do a thorough job in your research and analysis, and look to adapt to improve as you go along. Don’t cut corners in data collection and proofing, and don’t invest in anything that isn’t convincing over a sustained period.

Political Views

I find myself agreeing/disagreeing with views and values from both of the two main political parties in the UK, rather than just one of them. And this is an area that confirmation bias plays a huge role in shaping the opinions of the public.

It’s been spoken about a lot in regards to elections: we’re funnelled information that confirms our biases and further fuels our viewpoints. And that contributes to us being ignorant and poorly informed.

In a sports betting context this could mean failure to spot an opportunity based on a reluctance to challenge your existing beliefs on a particular strategy. Or disregarding the facts about a sport/team because doing so doesn’t align with your stubborn views.

Honestly, I feel alienated by the polarised by many views put forward on social media — whether it’s political or sport! And I think that stems from making a habit of forming my own truth from the facts, and not taking any one viewpoint as gospel. It’s that what makes you a better bettor.


Sports Betting Psychology

I try to avoid writing too much content about a sports betting ‘mindset’ and ‘psychology’ because it can sound ridiculous. But I particularly dislike content that encourages bettors to maintain hope and to keep their fingers crossed for the tide to turn. It’s bad advice and I wanted to put out a message that’s to the contrary.

‘Hope’ alone doesn’t change sports results or probabilities. Bad spells are inevitable, but every bettor deserves to know that the tide won’t ever fully turn unless you have an edge; a mathematical advantage. That’s the key point I wanted to get across.

We all have a weakness for sticking to what we believe rather than altering our opinions based on new evidence. But it’s powerful to acknowledge this weakness while betting on sports.

Indeed we’re all susceptible to confirmation bias. So all you can do is make an effort not to let it define how successful you are as a sports bettor. Gather evidence, explore other points of view, challenge your own beliefs, challenge me — that’s the only way you’re going to improve.

Toby @ Punter2Pro
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