An example of Classical Conditioning


Classical conditioning, the ‘Pavolivian response’ in which two events – here player action and umpire reaction – are not associated with the expected stimulus, The Rules of Hockey.

Just as Ivan Pavlov was able, in experimental conditions, to cause dogs to salivate in response to the sound of a bell or buzzer, rather than as is normal to the sight or smell of food, umpires respond to conditioning (coaching, peer group pressure, expectation) rather than, as they are expected to, applying the FIH Rules of Hockey as they are written.

(Not a strong analogy because a bell is ‘food neutral’ whereas umpire coaching that contradicts the Rules of Hockey is not neutral. But the training method is similar and something that should not be expected to cause the associated behavior, does so)

I received the following incoherent comment when I posted the above video on YouTube.

I’m afraid this is a consistent theme across all borders. A goal bound shot is just that irrespective of whether it might be dangerous. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy: it’s dangerous play at penalty corners so we put on protective gear (much like you would for ice-hockey) ……so it’s no longer dangerous! I stood on the line for many years and suffered from deliberate deflections that hit me in the face….guess what the result was.

My immediate thought was “Brain damage” but, I guess the result was that he was conditioned to believe, by the umpire’s responses to his being hit on the head with the ball, that it is an offence to be hit with the ball, but not an offence for an attacker (especially one taking a shot at the goal) to propel the ball in a way that will result in it hitting the head of an opponent if the defending opponent does not manage to get out of the way of the shot (and if he does get out of the way – takes legitimate evasive action to avoid injury – an on-goal shot will result in the award of a goal). And also the team of a player hit with the ball, who stops the ball, will in theses circumstances always be penalised with the award of a penalty stroke. That is, Rule 9.8 re: legitimate evasive action (and often what is given in Explanation with Rule 9.9 – i.e. raised towards, within 5m) will be ignored. The Rule itself ignores most situations where the defending player has no opportunity to take evasive action and is hit with the ball. i.e. there is no objective criterion for a dangerously played ball propelled from beyond 5m of the player hit (legitimate evasive action is a subjective judgement).

There are a number of fallacies and contradictions contained in the received comment but there is no cognitive dissidence caused to the player who made it because there is a trained disassociation between what is described as a dangerously played ball in the Rules of Hockey and the usual response, to what is in fact a dangerously played ball, from the authority figure of an umpire (apparently all or most umpires).

To summarize the received comment.

Umpires are right because they are qualified (and experienced) umpires, therefore a ball raised at my head at high velocity by an opponent *(when taking a shot at the goal) cannot be considered to be dangerous play because an umpire does not penalise that action as dangerous play.

  • There is an opposite attitude taken to the raising of the ball at an opponent when outside of the circles or a ball raised by defenders propelling the ball from within their circle. The logic of this apparently does not interfere with the ‘logic’ of not penalising any raised goal-bound shot, despite the fact that the Rules of Hockey make no distinction between these actions wherever a player is endangered with a raised ball.

Umpires are conditioned in the same way, by observing what other umpires are doing and following their practice, because that is a) What they are coached to do, because it is b) consistent c) easy (no need to judge if evasive action is legitimate) d) expected by players (who have been trained by previous umpiring decisions).

The Rules of Hockey are commonly regarded as subservient to (and alterable by) coaching from Umpire Managers and Tournament Directors, received during Tournament Briefings and match debriefings, despite that fact that the FIH Executive have previously instructed that this cannot and must not be the case, because these officials do not have the authority to make or amend a Rule or Interpretation (the Explanation of application provide with the Rule).

2 Comments to “An example of Classical Conditioning”

  1. another example maybe for your collection, only this time the drag flick hit the outrunner (I can’t exactly tell where, but appears to be higher than the knee…). I suppose the rationale for not judging the shot dangerous was that the defender was more than five meters away from where the shot was taken.

    • Thanks Tilman. I have looked at the incident in slow motion with video editing software and I cannot tell whether the ball hit the defender on or below the knee. The umpire I think could have had no idea where the ball struck her but despite that and the fact that the hit player was lying injured on the ground, she did not stop play.

      The change to the Rule made in 2004 in knee jerk response to the tactics of South Korean players during a Pre-Olympic Tournament – they deliberately used their bodies to charge down attempts at drag-flicks – was unnecessary and set up a contradiction of Rule 9.9 (in which no height is specified) when a defender is within 5m of the ball as a first shot is taken during a penalty corner: I don’t like it because it is a contradiction.

      The defender here was perhaps still more than 5m from the ball and there was no evasive action, so where the ball hit her is irrelevant – there is no Rule covering this sort of situation. The umpire allowed play to continue, when she should, I think, for player safety, have stopped play. It’s not fair or safe to allow play to continue when there is a player lying on the ground injured in the shooting circle during an attack – that is common sense. But if she did stop play how would it restart? With a penalty corner? Why when there was no offence by the defender? The contact was not intended and the defending team gained no advantage from it, the attacking side were able to continue with their attack.

      The award of a penalty corner, although not correct, might however, have been the lesser evil, not as bad as allowing play to continue in circumstances which could have further endangered the injured player. There is supposed to be an emphasis on player safety. It’s ironic that play was stopped, after the goal was awarded, to attend to the injured player.

      It would probably have been correct to restart with a bully following what would be a no-fault stoppage. I doubt that any player would understand that concept following a ball-body contact these days. But so what? Most players (and umpires) don’t understand the ball-body contact Rule anyway.

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