Here’s a question that’s likely to get very different answers depending on what type of bettor you ask it to: do you need to be a sports expert to succeed at betting?
While it seems reasonable to think that knowing a sport inside-out can only give you an advantage while betting on it, there’s just as many arguments to support the opposite view.
Let’s explore how sporting knowledge can impact betting performance.
Advantages of Following A Sport
Whether you’re a die-hard football fan or a horse racing form nerd, there are several advantages you’ll have for following or studying the sport you bet on.
If you’re super tuned into a specific sport, then you’ll become better at pre-empting certain elements of upcoming events. For instance:
- Line-ups: the starting line-up for team sports such as football
- Tactics: what game plan will be used (offensive, defensive, counter-attacking etc)
- Physical elements: how the team/player will cope. Are they likely to be fatigued (or fresh) due to other recent fixtures (or lack of)?
- Priorities: how a team/player views an event. For example, a football team might prefer to focus on European fixtures as opposed to domestic competitions.
- Emotions: how the contestants are feeling, and how it will influence performance (e.g. pressure, confidence levels).
Having this type of insight makes it easier to predict variables and, potentially, find opportunities that non-followers of the sport wouldn’t be privy to.
Better Ability to Interpret the Odds
If you’re totally immersed in a sport then you’ll already have a good idea of how opponents will match up.
But more importantly, you’ll also be well aware of more complex factors that might be pushing the odds in one direction. For example:
- Noise: news, rumours and narratives surrounding an upcoming event. This is rife in football.
- Fan sentiment: the overall feeling the public has about an event
- Physical conditions: such as the weather (which regularly impacts horse racing).
For in-play betting dedicated fans are in a strong position to read patterns of play, key events, potential risks and even opportunities in order to judge where the odds might go.
Understanding how and why odds might be moving could be vital for identifying inaccuracies and finding an edge.
Disadvantages of Following A Sport
There are disadvantages to knowing a lot about the sport you bet on. Being a fanatical sports fan doesn’t automatically improve your chances of becoming a profitable bettor.
Decisions are Influenced by Biases
No doubt about it: passionate sports fans have strong opinions. Unfortunately this often results in heavy biases that impair sound decision making.
Here’s some of the biases that impact sports bettors:
- Optimism bias: a bettor may feel that they “know their sport”, thereby overrating their ability to make correct predictions — despite the fact other fans lose by doing the same thing.
- Hindsight bias: a bettor may feel convinced that a result was very obvious, thinking they “knew it all along”. This is most likely to affect those that regularly watch games.
- Recency bias: a bettor may give more credence to recent events than historical ones, and make big decisions around that. It’s not unusual for a single game, or even a single moment to completely change the opinion of an emotionally-charged sports fan. It’s not beneficial for bettors to be caught up in the fickleness of professional sport!
- Outcome bias: a bettor may judge a bet based on the fact it won, rather than assessing the odds that were taken. In other words: “it won, so it was right”. This philosophy comes from sport itself, and is likely to rub off on fans while they bet.
Then there’s biases to specific teams or sportspeople. For instance, die-hard fans of a specific team would find it difficult to disconnect their heart from their head. This can lead to poor sports betting decisions.
More Likely to Misuse Statistics
Sports fans are most likely to misuse statistics because they have preconceptions.
If someone strongly believes something to be true about a sport then they are likely to search for analyses to support that view. This creates a type of tunnel-vision that affects sports fans more than those who keep it at arms length.
Here’s some examples of data misuse that are likely to affect bettor who closely follow a sport:
- Discarding unfavourable observations: a fan may not want to believe anything contrary to their view. Thus certain findings are discarded.
- Overgeneralisation: rather the see the bigger picture, a fan may make broad assumptions based on a narrow sample in order to support their view.
- Overfitting: fans of sport are likely to have a wide range of ideas, which results in a vastly over-complicated selection method that can’t produce accurate predictions.
Essentially, we’re likely to seek confirmation of what we already believe than to challenge our views. So life-long fans will have a harder time accepting peculiar findings than those who care very little for the sport.
Being a sports expert means you’ll know what shapes the odds and what variables exist within the game. But this comes with emotional attachments and biases that can heavily weigh against your ability to reach sound decisions.
You certainly don’t need to know all about the sport you’re betting on in order to succeed. However, it’s beneficial to understand how the sport works and what factors could be at play, to a certain degree. The key is to keep an open mind and maintain a high level of detachment; becoming a successful bettor often means going against preconceptions.
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