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Scientists say ABBA sequence would make for fairer penalty shootouts in soccer

"Although our study examines the effect of the order of moves in tennis, the order of actions is a potentially important determinant of performance in contest in general," said researcher Offer Moshe Shapir.

By Brooks Hays
Scientists say ABBA sequence would make for fairer penalty shootouts in soccer
Andy Murray of Britain gets ready to serve the ball to Paolo Lorenzi of Italy in the first set of their third round match at the US Open Tennis Championships at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City on September 3, 2016. Photo by Monika Graff/UPI | License Photo

July 28 (UPI) -- The order of serve in tennis tiebreakers involves an ABBA sequence. New research suggests the format is optimal for fair play and does not offer the first to serve a measurable advantage.

Scientists analyzed the results of 1,701 tiebreakers from 73 men's tennis tournaments and 920 tiebreakers from 135 women's tournaments. Their findings -- published this week in the journal of the IZA Institute of Labor Economics -- suggest the order does not alter performance. Both servers had an equal chance of winning when following the ABBA format.

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Alternately, penalty shootouts in soccer follow an ABAB sequence, a format the researchers found offers an unfair advantage to the team who shoots first.

The International Football Association Board is currently considering whether to switch to an ABBA format, and the latest research suggests they should -- if fair play is the goal.

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"Our research shows that serving first in a tennis tiebreak does not provide an advantage to any of the players to win," Danny Cohen-Zada, a professor of economics at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, said in a news release. "In other words, a player who serves first in a tiebreak has the same probability to win as his opponent does, which is not the case in penalty shootouts."

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Researchers believe their findings are applicable to any type of competition where sequential ordering is involved, including politics.

"Although our study examines the effect of the order of moves in tennis, the order of actions is a potentially important determinant of performance in contest in general," said Offer Moshe Shapir, an economist at the Center for Business Education and Research at NYU Shanghai. "This is true, for example, in settings ranging from chess matches, penalty shootouts in soccer, or presidential candidate debates."

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