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Spring 2012

Polished Professor Published on Subject of Sports Streakiness

Hot Hand research provides unique perspective on sports statistics

by Karin Slyker

Hot Hand: The Statistics Behind Sports' Greatest Streaks

Ever wonder what the odds are after witnessing a series of amazing performances in sports? Or perhaps a series of streaks, or losses?

Alan Reifman, a professor in Texas Tech University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, examines sports streakiness and conducts “hot hand” research.

The term “hot hand” comes from a 1985 study that concluded such streaks were simply an example of clustering illusion. When a shot could either make or miss, you are bound to have several shots in a row, but it does not change the fact that the next shot still has a 50-50 chance of going either way.

“The way I think about it, for somebody to truly be streaky, they should have a starting and finishing point,” Reifman said. “Otherwise you cannot distinguish between them and a player who is chronically hot and playing at a high level.”

Reifman is the author of the recently published, “Hot Hand: The Statistics Behind Sports’ Greatest Streaks” published by Potomac Books. In it, he gives a foundation of the study of relevant methods of statistical analysis. He also covers events, from the famous Joe DiMaggio getting at least one hit in 56 consecutive games in 1941, to the Los Angeles Lakers winning 33 straight games in the 1971-72 season, and many in between–including the unusual (neither hot nor cold) streak. Reifman also examines the psychological and physiological factors at play during such phenomena.

“For example, Alex Rodriguez seems to go through a lot of stretches, where he is either really hot or really cold,” Reifman said. “Kobe Bryant pretty much stays hot, so he’s more of a high performer.”

Meet the Author

Alan Reifman

Alan Reifman is a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech University.

The book is, in part, a culmination of a decade’s worth of streaky thought-provoking analysis. Much of his information comes from watching the games themselves, to the various sports mediums wrapping up the interesting facts of note.

Reifman got his start in 2002, with a FrontPage HTML website. Then as the Internet evolved, so did his site. The numbers man transferred much of his data to a blog at thehothand.blogspot.com. The improved format allowed for a simpler Web address, images and comments from his enthusiasts. Now, in the age of immediacy, Reifman enjoys instant feedback from followers on Twitter.

“It is a pretty specialized group,” Reifman said of his fans, which include sportscasters, writers and other sports statisticians from around the world. “I recently did an interview with a reporter from Toronto.”

Reifman’s enthusiasm is not limited to sports streaks. Other interests include Alan’s College Softball Blog, Basketball Court Designs, and Volleymetrics, which is the advanced statistical and scientific analysis of, you guessed it, volleyball.

Purchase a copy of the book through Potomac Books or Amazon.com.

Karin Slyker is a Senior Writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing at Texas Tech University.

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