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The Poise Fallacy

To pick, harmlessly, on a certain former NFL scout with a significant Twitter following for a sec…

(paraphrased) The no. 1 quality a successful quarterback must have is poise.

When asked how poised is quantified, examples of a Tom Brady type were given.  How nothing could rattle a quarterback with poise, not a pressure situation, not a pass rush, not weather conditions.  A counter-example of Kyle Boller was offered: how a quarterback with a truly major arm could fail so mightily because he was not poised.

The scout is not alone in his assessment.  It’s a wide spread belief that the presence of poise can separate a good prospect from an otherwise poor prospect, and it follows that players who have the skills, and have the poise will succeed at the NFL level.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time dissecting the concept of poise, because it’s a perfectly reasonable term for a sportswriter to use in order to nicely package observations made about a player into a column.  If Kurt Warner brings his team back from a ten point 4th quarter deficit against the Seahawks in Seattle in December, you could probably describe his effort as poised or having poise.  In other words, used properly, poise is tangible.   Though revisionist, Warner’s performance demonstrated poise because the expected outcome in that situation is a loss, but Warner did not succumb to the expected outcome, and good stuff happened to him and his team as a result.  That’s poise.

Something that poise can not be, is intangible.  Notice in the above: poised is a quality of the performance put on by Warner.  A player who is poised is a player who strings enough of these types of performances together as to earn the title.  For example, Tom Brady, by virtue of observation of his performance, has poise.  By the same standard, Kyle Boller, does not have poise.

It absoultely does not follow, not from any sort of logical structure or any type of deductive reasoning, that poise is an inherent quality.  It is not an intangible in the sense that some prospects at the quarterback position are poised and others are not.  This is a ridiculous assertion, and yet, when we break down a statement such as, “the number one quality for a quarterback to have is poise” (emphasis added), this is exactly the assertion being made.  It’s Brady achieving what he had because he was poised, and Boller failing to do so because he lacked it.

It’s not being denied that there are other qualities that determine a good quarterback from a bad one, but we can still say with absolute certainty that poise did not separate Tom Brady from Kyle Boller.  Trust me, there are plenty of completely measurable and observable evidences to choose one of these quarterbacks over the other.  Poise, in the inherently possessed use of the term, is not even on the list no matter how far you look down it.

One step further: if finding poise was an actual scouting law, no matter how difficult, there would be NFL flops and busts who unquestionably demonstrated poise in the pocket.  There wouldn’t be all that many of them, and they would certainly be the exception, but it’s the exception that proves the rule.  The evidence would say: there’s a strong correlation between those that demonstrate poise, and those who produce at the next level.  But the evidence does not say that.  It says that every player who has been deemed to have poise at the end of their career did so because they succeeded at some point.  Does that sound like a fair analysis to you?

We say good quarterbacks are poised…because they are good quarterbacks.  Not the other way around.  Frankly, to make this fallacy is inexcusable given a related line of work.

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