Why Do We Follow The Crowd?

I talked about this last week in a webinar, and I'm still thinking about it.

The topic? Why do people do things that clearly make no sense?

Here's an example. As a tennis pro, I've come across a large amount of beginners. And usually those beginners have taken a lesson or two somewhere along the line. It's very rare to give a lesson to someone who's never had any previous instruction.

During lessons with beginners, things almost always progress nicely until we get to one stroke: the overhead.

[If you don't know, and overhead is when you come up to the net and your opponent lobs you. Instead of letting it drop, you hit it out of the air, making contact high above your head.]

Every time I've asked a beginner to show me their form for an overhead, they all do the same thing. The turn sideways and snap their racquet back behind their head so that their hitting arm is bent and the racquet literally is touching their upper back (as if they're scratching their back).

The mind-blowing thing is that every beginner I've ever seen does this. Every single one. It doesn't matter if the person is old or young, tall or short, male or female. No matter who they are, they all do it. 

That in itself is incredible. How do so many different types of people all end up doing the exact same thing? It defies logic.

What's even more incredible is that the back-scratching technique doesn't work! It doesn't even come close to working. When hitting overheads, getting into the back-scratching position is worst possible thing you can do.

But does it somehow work for the beginners even though it's technically nonsensical? No! The beginners fail almost every time and also complain that it's uncomfortable or that they hate hitting overheads. 

So, in summary: 1) It doesn't work; 2) It's technically the worst thing you can possibly do; 3) No one on the pro tour does it; 4) It's uncomfortable. 

Yet every single beginner does it. 


Is it a national conspiracy to make people bad at tennis? Are there evil masterminds out there trying to systematically poison budding tennis players?

If it's not a conspiracy, then what? What else can explain why people do it? Why would someone blindly follow an instruction that isn't effective and feels terrible?

Like I said, mind-blowing. And it makes me wonder.

How many things in our lives do we blindly follow without analyzing whether it's good for us or not? Are there other examples of masses of people doing potentially harmful things to themselves?

What about going to college? Everyone does it. Is it really a smart step to take

What about buying a house? Everyone does it. Is it really a smart investment?

What about getting married? Everyone does it. Is it really a smart thing to do?

The answer to all of these things might be yes.

But I think it's very important for everyone to actually have a discussion to make sure "yes" actually wins the argument. It's very important not to just do something everyone else does just because some guy at your local club regurgitated an idiotic tennis tip that he heard from some other regurgitator years before.

Otherwise, we'll all end up spending the rest of our lives having tennis balls hit us in the face after whiffing another back-scratched overhead.  

And nobody wants that.