Men are far more likely to make stupid decisions in sports. But are the reasons for this stupidity all bad? I don’t think so.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who plays a coed sport:

On the playing field, men are more likely than women to make dumb decisions.

The major finding:

As the competition (in US Open Tennis) gets tighter, men are more likely to screw up. During set tiebreakers, female players were more likely to make the correct challenge call, and men more likely to make an incorrect call.

The study, conducted by conducted by economics professors from Deakin University in Melbourne and Sogang University in Seoul, only looks at US Open tennis, but the same principles are easily applied to other sports, including golf.


More than half of the errors that I make while playing golf are mental errors, and a good percentage of them amount to little more than dumb decisions.

These dumb decisions fall into three categories:

  1. I failed to take an aspect of the course (a tiered green, an enormous pond, a stiff breeze) into account before swinging.
  2. I failed to think strategically before swinging
  3. I attempted a shot that was impossible or nearly impossible in hopes that it might work.

It’s this latter error (and my most frequent error) that this study seems to address.

Errors like these often occur when I am standing in a tree line on the edge of a fairway. “The mature shot” (a phrase my friends and I often use to describe the boring but sensible shot) would be to chip the ball out of the tree line onto the fairway and proceed to the green.

Instead, I look ahead to the green and see an opening through the tree line down to the green. Hitting my ball through this series of spaces between the trees will require me to hit a ball low and long and accurate to within three feet, absent of any slice or draw. It will require the perfect shot. But if I manage t pull it off, I could be on the green and save myself at least one stroke.

It’s a decision I make often. It’s a decision that my friends make often.

The results are rarely good.


These findings can be applied to other sports as well. I play coed basketball, and I’ve found that a man is much more likely to throw up an improbable shot during a game (and particularly near the end of the game) than a woman.

The authors attribute the propensity for men to make these kinds of dumb decisions to three factors: 

Overconfidence: Men are more prone to cockiness, and think that their perspective is always correct.

Pride: Men also possess a disproportionate amount of pride. Governed by their egos, men can’t bear to lose, and are more susceptible to making an irrational decision.

Shame: Men are also less prone to shame than women. They don’t see the same downside to screwing up. “Guys just don’t care as much about losing challenges,” Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, told TIME. “Women are more concerned about being embarrassed.”

The authors of the study agree:

“At crucial moments of the match, such as tiebreaks … male players try to win at all costs, while female players accept losing more gracefully.”

Overconfidence and pride seem to be hindrances to performance in almost all cases, but a reduced propensity for shame is less clear.

In the 16 years that I have spent working primarily with women, in addition to the three years spent studying at a women’s college, I have taken note in this difference in the way that men and women experience shame. I think Navratilova and the authors of the study are correct:

Men are far less concerned about being embarrassed than women.

While this lack of concern over embarrassment may lead to my willingness to attempt impossible golf shots and ultimately cause me to lose more often, I’ve also noted that men are more willing to take risks, both athletically and professionally, and that these risks often pay off enormously.

It also allows men to focus more closely on critical aspects of their job that they deem most important while allowing less important but potentially embarrassing aspects of the job to receive little or no attention.

It also prevents concern over perceived embarrassments over factors that others would never even notice.

This one seems especially prevalent in female culture.

So yes, men are more likely to make dumb decisions on the tennis court, and probably in most athletic endeavors. And yes, overconfidence, pride, and shame (or a lack thereof) are contributing factors to our stupidity.

But men’s reduced level of concern over embarrassment may not be all bad. At the very least, it reduces anxiety and worry and frees up vast amounts of time and resources. But it may also greatly contribute to a man’s willingness to try new things, take risks, fight relentlessly, fail often, and ultimately find higher ground.

And take some terrible golf shots along the way.


Men humiliate men. Constantly. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Man who finishes in last place in his fantasy football league is required to make an embarrassing photo calendar that celebrates famous moments in print history, including a recreation of the ESPN: The Magazine Naked Prince Fielder cover and the famous photo of breastfeeding on the cover of TIME.

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Also something you would find almost exclusively in the company of men.

Embarrassing your closest friend in the most unimaginable and horrific way possible is the stuff of men. So, too, are most pranks and public insults. Men are intentionally cruel and purposefully hurtful to one another on a minute-to-minute basis,  and we are just fine with it.

We actively, unrelentingly seek to annoy, harass, humiliate, poke, and prod one another. We plot and plan for months (in sometimes years) in order to pull off the perfectly timed prank.

The best gift that I have ever received was a gift-wrapped box that my friend, Jeff, handed me before a round of golf. We were kicking off my bachelor party weekend, and Jeff told me that this little box was my wedding gift. I was instructed not to open it. Just hand it to our friend, Tom, when there were lots of people around him, and tell him that it was my gift to him for agreeing to be a groomsman in my wedding.

I asked no questions. Just did what I was told.

I waited until a large group of men had gathered near the starter’s shed and handed Tom the box. “Thanks for being a part of my wedding,” I said.

Tom looked surprised. Appreciative. Humbled. He thanked me. Then he untied the ribbon and open the box. Inside was one of the largest spiders I have ever seen. Tom is deathly afraid of spiders, so he screamed like a little girl, threw the box into the air, and ran.

Best gift ever. Not only was Tom’s reaction priceless, but my own surprise was like icing on the cake.

But this is the kind of thing that almost only happens with men.

Women are rarely involved in pranks. They are almost never openly cruel to their closest and dearest friends. They never seek to embarrass or humiliate the ones they love. The idea that a group of women would make one of their friends pose for those calendar shots is unthinkable. 

I’m not sure why this is so, but I’m so happy to be on the male side of this equation. I have been the victim of many, many pranks and cruelties at the hands of my friends over the years. I have been humiliated far more often than I have humiliated a friend. As a friend once told me, “It’s not that you’re an easy target. You were just born to be the target.”

It’s true. I don’t know why, but he was right. Had I been competing in that fantasy league, the universe would have undoubtedly pushed me into last place, injuring my players in any way possible to make it happen, and I would’ve been the one posing naked.

It would’ve been humiliating photos of me hanging in offices and kitchens and features on Deadspin.

Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.