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Civility

posted Nov 25, 2015, 6:23 PM by Robert Vollman
Sports fans are passionate, and that doesn't change just because you can calculate a p-value. Number-crunching sports fans can also lose perspective, get swept up in arguments, form into mobs, dabble in hyperbole, and fixate on only the flaws of others. Even for the geniuses who can practically see the matrix, the passion for hockey itself always comes first.

This can lead to some unpleasant moments, for sure. We have all been there! But it's not that bad, and everybody moves on pretty quickly. In fairness, being loud and abrasive tends to get a lot of attention and publicity, which can make the conversation seem bigger and uglier than it really is. 

That extra attention is also why some of the most popular names in our world of hockey analytics are also among the most outspoken. There's one name in particular that popped into everybody's mind when they read that last sentence, but there's no reason to single out that one individual. Go check the article history and/or the twitter feed of any of the big names, and count how many times the fine work of others was pointed out and promoted, and how many times the critic hat is being worn instead. See? It's not just one person.

Of course, being argumentative and calling people out doesn't always have to be a bad thing. For starters, it can help correct some of the more time-wasting faulty thinking out there, and and bring more attention to the great things going on in our field.

It can also bring a lot of attention to that individual's ideas in particular, leading to one of the rare opportunities within the sport and/or mainstream media itself. However, I also know of potential career-marking opportunities that were lost (or almost lost) because someone simply didn't strike the right balance.

Be careful, and don't confuse being loud and abrasive with being the easy route for popularity and advancement. The prominent analysts you thought of earlier are flat-out brilliant, and put a jaw-dropping amount of hours into their work. And while some of them do eventually enjoy the adulation of fans and supporters, they spend most of their time as the target of a great deal of hostility and attack. 

In the end, remember that the line between helping someone improve their understanding of a given player, team, or situation, and calling people out on their mistakes can be a thin one; it's easy to find yourself on the wrong side quite by accident. We have all been there, too.

Whenever the lack of civility starts to get you down, there are things you can do. For starters, find some work you really like, let the author know, and help spread the word to others. And, when you see someone working on something particularly interesting, pitch in by helping them find a time-saving data source. Most importantly, rather than tearing down the shaky foundations you stumble upon, seek out and build upon the strong ones instead. 

In my experience, there's always a lot of positive work going on, which is a far more fun and motivating place to invest our time and attention anyway.
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