Friday, June 22, 2007

Holding back

My daughter had a swimming "race" night last night. This is a monthly event at her swimming school whereby the kids are timed and get a ribbon if they get their PB or personal best. This was my daughter's first (well second but last year they forgot to record her times) and so she would get a ribbon anyway.

She swam all of her strokes (at 25m and 50m) but surprisingly slowly. I thought she was just tired. But in the 25m races she would bound back up to the starting end of the pool. So something didn't add up.

When she came out, I asked her how she felt about it all.


"But didn't you think you were a little slower than usual."

"Oh that is true. I wanted a slow time."


"Well, then I wont have as much to beat next month and can get a PB."

So we can now add her to the list of the many who have discovered the ratchet effect. This is the issue of when incentives are created to hold back because people are worried about having to put too much effort in in the future. When you want a ribbon ever month, it is best not to fall in the trap of over-performance. One good month and you pay for it forever. My daughter realised that and so hardly felt that she came in last. Another reason for swimming races where it depends on where you come in the pack.