The Logical Fallacy of Delusional Self-Confidence

*The following blog post is entirely fictional, any resemblance to actual events or characters is completely coincidental, please don’t take offence because I said you might no height at the weekend

As most people in, or vaguely involved with athletics will know, this weekend is the British Championships. As usual, this will actually be televised, and as usual I expect a grand total of one jump from the Pole Vault to be shown. This I shouldn’t complain about because at least with Luke Cutts and Steve Lewis in the men’s, and Holly Bleasdale in the women’s when she’s fit we have a handful of World class athletes in my event, which usually means one winning jump will get shown. Woohoo!

The field events in general have a problem with not being easy to follow. You literally have to sit there and concentrate the whole way through to follow whats going on. My mum, who’s sat through hundreds of pole vault competitions, still has to keep a score card throughout to keep track of who’s in the lead and whats going on. Until there’s some simple system of looking over to the event, seeing whats going on and immediately appreciating it for more than the sheer impressive spectacle of someone throwing a hammer over 75m or long jump way over 8m, the crowd is never going to be able to appreciate the unfoldings and drama of the event overall like the simplistic presentation of a race. And until you can at least win over the crowd, why should you expect tv time?

Back to the Pole Vault

The Pole Vault competition this year is stacked. I haven’t done the statistical analysis (how unlike me), but the strength in depth is impressive. Not that I told you so but I did mention that this might happen back in January. With Commonwealth Games selections done, there is three places to claim for the European Championships and 4 guys with a good chance of claiming them, and a handful more with aspirations to get in the mix.

5.60 is the qualification mark, with three guys already having cleared it, and one having attempted it on multiple occasions. Top two at the trials with a standard make the team, then a third selection will be made by selectors. Theres the battle for places going on, but also this will be the last time all these guys compete against each other before the Commonwealth Games, the top English and Scottish (and Welsh) athletes battling it out before the Aussies and the Canadians come in to try and spoil the party.

Shame I won't be allowed to compete in my new "sponsor's" vest
Shame I won’t be allowed to compete in my new “sponsor’s” vest

Ranking System

As a highly quantifiable sport we’re always going to be able to look at the rankings going into an event like this and create expectations on what should happen based on season bests (sb) or personal bests (pb). Very rarely will an informed athlete or spectator just take this into consideration, there will be all sorts of things which could also be taken into account, so and so has been injured, this guy always pulls it out at champs, that one has been looking good but not clearing bars etc.

Depending on outlook, I can manipulate a proposed standing table in my head quite significantly. I’ve personally not managed to jump particularly high so far this outdoors season yet (as one radio interviewer took great pleasure in pointing out) so, if I assume everyone else will jump a season best, and I jump my average bar of the season so far, the standings will look something like this

  1. Luke Cutts 5.83
  2. Steve Lewis 5.71
  3. Jax Thoirs 5.60
  4. Max Eaves 5.55
  5. Gregor Maclean 5.45
  6. Andy Sutcliffe 5.40
  7. Nick Cruchley 5.40
  8. Dan Gardner 5.40
  9. Adam Hague 5.30
  10. Ben Gregory 5.30 (a little bonus pb for Ben)


Last. Paul Walker 5.20

Now I say, I could look at it this way, but clearly I don’t.

Applying Logic

If we logically look at every pole vault competition ever run, there will not be a single one where every competitor does a seasons best. Theres usually 1 or two who may no height, a handful who will under perform, a handful who will probably equal their seasons best and maybe 1 or two who actually jump higher than they ever jumped before, pb’s.

Now it’s my mind, so I’m completely at liberty to apply these events however I so wish. So maybe Luke and Steve no height (sorry guys), maybe Jax, Max and Gregor seriously under perform (again, apologies), you know what I’ll be kind and let Andy, Nick, Dan and Adam do seasons bests (well done chaps). And does that leave one or two people to do bp’s, hey Ben, you get to keep your pb, and that just leaves me to clearly jump a pb. Come on Wales!

So if I draw the standings again with this outcome:

  1. Paul Walker 5.46 pb
  2. Andy Sutcliffe 5.40
  3. Nick Cruchley 5.40
  4. Dan Gardner 5.40
  5. Adam Hague 5.30
  6. Ben Gregory 5.30 (go Ben, 2 pb’s in one blog post)
  7. Jax Thoirs 5.20
  8. Max Eaves 5.20
  9. Gregor Maclean 5.20
  10. Luke Cutts Nh
  11. Steve Lewis Nh

Not sure why but that looks far more favourable to me.

Clearing low bars in style, my speciality
Clearing low bars in style, my speciality

Now I have every reason to think that I can jump a pb. Certain things in training going well, hip height over low bars in competition, 6 metre elastics that I squeaked my toes over and convinced myself I cleared, the fact that its British Champs and of course I’m going to bring my A-game. All this is entirely logical, what isn’t however is the assumption that every other person in the competition is in a completely different boat. Clearly they’ve all peaked for the season and can’t possibly jump any higher, they’ve out jumped their physical limits already or they just can’t get themselves up for a championship event.

The Logical Fallacy

I know that in Pole Vault there is almost no way I can actually affect anyone else’s performance, aside from gamesmanship. With everyone out there for hours at a time, effectively we all just try to do our best individually, I think that’s where the general camaraderie amongst vaulters comes from. All I can do is jump my very highest, I’ve already said that only 1 or 2 people per comp jump bp’s, that means that if I do manage to jump a pb, a maximum of one other person can do so, then everyone else is going to jump well or under-perform, its logical, or its a logical fallacy.

Although this is an entirely unlikely sequence of events, it is a possibility. The chance of things playing out like this are so extremely slim, yet, because there is a logical set of circumstances which could lead to this kind of outcome I somehow seem to have fooled my brain into being far more confident about the weekends competition than my current seasons performances give me any right to be.

I have so well fooled my brain, that even by explaining this process out loud and writing this blog post, it hasn’t removed even a slither of confidence. As I’ve said previously, “Confidence comes from confidence, but can also come from ignorance”.

Good luck to everyone at the weekend, and fingers crossed for the weather.

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