Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Coaching Team Production

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Coaching Team Production

Article excerpt


The actual function of managers is the subject of much debate.

Using data on more than 3000 male college basketball players,

their coaches, and their skill levels, we find a positive and

significant relation between our ability to replicate an individual

coach's allocation of playing time across players and his winning

percentage. Although this result does not answer the central question

of just what it is that managers contribute, the results do

support the property rights paradigm: managers are the employees

of workers; and more generally, sports data can be used to help

understand related economic processes where quantifiable

measures of inputs and outputs are more costly to obtain.

"What is meant by performance? Input energy, initiative, work

attitude, perspiration, rate of exhaustion? Or output?...sometimes

by inspecting a team member's input activity we can better judge

his output effect...It is not always the case that watching input

activity is the only or best means of detecting, measuring, or

monitoring output effects of each team member, but in some cases

it is a useful way."


A major tenet of the Alchian-Demsetz [1972] representation of the firm is that managers are hired by workers to prevent shirking and malfeasance in their own ranks. Absent overseers, individual workers bear only a fraction of the cost of shirking, and hence, everyone undersupplies labor relative to its opportunity cost. In this world, the managerial function is to monitor inputs and meter rewards, thereby reducing the incentive to shirk and raising each worker's marginal productivity. The more dependence there is in the marginal products of laborers, the more important the role of management. This view of supervision is simultaneously intuitively pleasing and difficult to quantify. This paper investigates the role of management in a setting where, indisputably, there is team production: intercollegiate basketball.(1)

Data on 3012 college basketball players across ten years and sixty-five teams are used to replicate one aspect of coaching, the allocation of playing time. Next, we attempt to link coaching decisions to winning. The goal is to determine if coaches who manage well, by our standards, are successful.

Section II motivates the paper. In section III the empirical methodology is detailed; the monitoring function is estimated and related to coaching success. Section IV contains a summary and conclusion.


The essence of team production is interdependence and the inherent immeasurability of marginal productivity across workers. However, this does not mean that proxies for marginal productivity cannot be developed. Managers monitor worker inputs and deduce marginal products accordingly. Of course, some inputs are more cheaply quantified than others. Attitude is hard to measure, but heart rate is easy. Sweat is observed cheaply, but workers can feign exhaustion.

In the famous Chinese boatpullers fable, the coxswain uses his whip to insure that coolies pull efficiently, to persuade each worker to give the appropriate effort.(2) McManus [1975, 341] relates a story told by Cheung: " are pulled upstream by a team of coolies prodded by an overseer with a American lady, horrified at the sight of the overseer whipping the men as they strained at their harness, demanded that something be done about the brutality. She was quickly informed... `Those men own the rights to draw boats over this stretch of water and they have hired the overseer and given him his duties.'" Here the monitor uses his vision, intuition, and experience to determine shirking, counseling the loafers with his whip. But employing subjective observation is just one way to monitor. …

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