Friday, February 19, 2010

The Boris Becker effect

Sports personalities are often packaged as role models for future generations, implying that their workj and perseverance has paid off, and one should emulate this. One consequence is that when a sport star emerges, it should attract many in his sphere of influence to do the same thing. An example would Tiger Woods enticing many blacks to pick up golf. This is much like many boys would to become firemen after seeing a firetruck rushing down the road. But does this work at all?

Arne Feddersen, Sven Jacobsen and Wolfgang Maennig analyze the supposed Boris Becker effect, that more people picked up a tennis racket with the successes of Boris Becker, Stefi Graf and Michael Stich. Well, it turns out it did not work that way at all. With the rise of these stars, tennis memberships went down, and after their retirement, they went further down. The latter efect would be expected, but not the first. While this is just one data point in studying the impact of role models, it is quite puzzling. The authors have three untested hypotheses: fatigue from over-exposure to tennis, the belief that such performances can only be the result of doping, and discouragement that the stars' results are unreachable. Intuitively, I have my doubts about all three. This remains a puzzle.

4 comments:

S. said...

The issue does not seem TOO relevant. And doesn't this evidence look a bit flimsy?

VIlfredo said...

The issue whether role models have an impact is relevant. But I agree the evidence is flimsy.

The visual escapist said...

These stars may have been the result of a wave of interest in tennis that is already on the decline. Surprising though, that there was no role model effect. I agree that none of the proposed explanations seem to make much sense.
As for Tiger Woods and golf, I think there are too many barriers to entry into the golf world. Actually, both golf and tennis have been considered sports of the rich, and they tend to be expensive sports, so maybe it is not all that strange? Also, there may be a local effect, even if there is no global effect. Haven't read the paper, so not sure whether they test for that.

Brad said...

Interesting, though I don't think the same can be said about Tiger. Although I doubt there's any academic works on the subject, I've routinely heard The First Tee program being heralded as a large success due to Woods' presence on tour.

It'll be interesting to see in the future.