Dallas Cowboys Voluntary Workouts: How Important Are They?
There is some concern over the fact that a few Dallas Cowboys (Miles Austin being the biggest name) are skipping voluntary offseason workouts. Austin, along with safety Gerald Sensabuagh and (before he signed his tender) defensive end Marcus Spears, is bypassing the workouts over what could only be a contract situation.
However, Tony Romo is not concerned. Said Romo on Galloway & Co. 103.3 FM, “Miles will be back and around. It’s like anything, it’s all part of the business side of things that happens once and a while.”
Romo went on to say, “(Austin) does a lot of good things. He knows what it takes to play at a high level year-in-and-year out.”
A lot of analysts emphasize the importance of these voluntary workouts in building team chemistry. Super Bowl winners are teams that bleed together in the offseason, they say.
We aren’t buying it. Sure, championship teams generally have a lot of “team chemistry,” but is the winning truly due to the chemistry, or is the chemistry due to winning?
Now, we aren’t talking about ‘chemistry’ in terms of the cohesiveness of an offensive line, for example. Surely on-field cohesiveness affects a team’s play. The playoff loss in Minnesota is a testament to that.
But locker room chemistry–the type where everyone ‘gets along’? It simply doesn’t have an affect on winning. This may be a tough pill to swallow, but the proof is in the pudding.
The illusion lies in the distinction between causation and correlation. What do championship teams have in common? They run the ball well, they are well-coached, and they have great chemistry.
Right? Well, yes. . .but let’s take a closer look at each of those characteristics.
Winning teams run the ball well because they are generally, well, winning. It is easy to rack up rushing yards when you are up 45-0 in the 3rd quarter. The ability to run the ball well isn’t necessarily the cause of that score.
‘Well-coached’ teams are generally labeled so ex post facto (after the fact). Why did the New England Patriots win three Super Bowls in the last decade? Because they are well-coached of course. However, would Bill Belichick be labeled a ‘great coach’ had the Pats not won those games? Maybe, maybe not (note that we don’t think Belichick isn’t a great coach, but simply that the label ‘great coach’ generally comes ex post facto).
Both of these notions–running the ball and having a good coach–are only correlated to winning. Correlation does not equate to causation. For example, intelligence is rather strongly correlated to shoe size. Does possessing big feet make you smarter? Of course not, but people with big feet are generally older, and older people tend to be more intelligent than children (although that is unfortunately not always the case).
Nonetheless, we only notice the presence of these characteristics when it is too late–they have no predictive power.
Team chemistry is completely analogous to the ideas of winning teams possessing good running games and superb coaches. Labeling a winning team as one with great chemistry has no predictive power. The team has already won, so how do we know if the winning was due to the chemistry, or vice versa? Complete your preseason predictions based on which teams have “great chemistry” and you are sure to be disappointed.
Similarly, there are a lot of losing teams with great chemistry–why don’t we hear about them? Wouldn’t it be something to hear a coach say, “Well you know guys, we went 0-16 and got blown out in every game, but we sure as hell got along well.”
The correlation between winning and team chemistry is not one that is due to causation. So don’t fret about the absence of your #1 wide receiver, Cowboys fans. As long as he is working out on his own (and we are sure he is), there is really not much to be gained from attending voluntary offseason training sessions.
Besides a chance to see this: