Why do older players commit more technical fouls in basketball? (model this)

Surprisingly, the average player gets whistled for more technicals each season they are in the league, according to Stats LLC. For instance, rookies average less than one technical. That number grows to an average of two technical fouls by the third year of a player’s career, and to more than three technicals by the fifth. Players average closer to four technicals per season upon reaching their 12th year.

Why the additional whistles? A primary reason: Players get ruder as they get older.

“Guys will call you ‘Mister’ early in their career, then they develop a comfort level to where it becomes a first-name basis,” said retired official Steve Javie, now an ESPN analyst. “They’re more comfortable talking to you, and sometimes that leads them to express their emotions a bit too much at times.”

The technical-foul disparity is most pronounced for players who enter the league as high draft picks.

Here is more.  What are the other implied predictions of this model?  And this is interesting too:

While players get more technicals the longer they stay in the league, coaches do the opposite. The average NBA coach picks up six technicals a season his first six years on the job before mellowing out. Those who coach 13 years or more average fewer than four techincals per season.


Isn't this just obvious - it is males battling out for dominance. Like a pack of dogs. The young dog enters with his tail between his legs. He is careful not to offend. Then as he gains in confidence, he begins to strut its stuff. A male can only demonstrate status by humiliating others. The referees are obvious people to fight with as they are older males who exhibit power over the younger players. And naturally this applies most to the high draft picks.

Coaches on the other hand are old before they start their job. Their testosterone levels are lower. They have a record of accomplishment - and their power is exercised over their players. Every day. They don't need to pick fights with officials to prove a damn thing.

Any of this unexpected or otherwise surprising?

The young coaches have to show they won't be walked on.

Age in sport also entails extreme survivorship bias.

No, that is not obvious.

Not obvious to me.

I'm not very familiar with basketball, but in football (soccer) there are many situations where it's beneficial to commit a foul on purpose even if the player expects to be booked with a yellow card. There is simply a somewhat fuzzy margin where the penalty for the rule infraction is not severe enough to cancel the benefit of a prevented counterattack for example. Knowing when and where on the pitch a foul is "positive" is the problem. I would not be suprised if older and more experienced players were more comfortable making this call.

Basketball has two types of fouls, "technical" fouls and "personal" fouls. Personal fouls are the rather standard ones which, often, have a strategic value. Technical fouls, though, are typically only given when a player/ref mouths off to the refs, and the penalty -- a shot and possession of the ball -- means that there's little to no strategic value to being "T'd up."

The strategic value of referee complaints/technical fouls for a high-status experienced players is that afterwards they expect to get a slight behavior change in the referees, especially if they're right in their complaint.

Phil Jackson used to say that the fines he got for complaining about the officiating in a playoff series were worth the extra attention the officiating got from the league for the remaining games.

Contrary to this, a rookie or even midlevel player's complaints aren't going to be taken seriously by the referee.

In addition, as time goes on, player's learn how much they can complain about and get away with, so they adjust their behavior towards pushing right up to the boundary of benefit/loss.


I'm naive about the game too. But is there any correlation between the quality of the player and number of fouls? Maybe there is an optimal level of foulplay and the older players are better at knowing / attaining this optimum?

Also, historically has fouling decreased or increased? Perhaps older players fouling more is only indicative of the roughness of the times they were trained in?

As mentioned above, technical fouls are related to mouthing off to the referees, and not related to rough play.

Do it more than once in a game though and you'll (probably? certainly?) be ejected.

Certainly is the rule...2 techs and you are ejected. And if you accumulate too many during the season they start suspending you for x number of games.

The more technical fouls for top five draft picks statistic is spurious. It doesn't look like the author corrects for minutes played (most in-depth basketball stats are reported as per 48 minutes) and I would bet that technical fouls are positively correlated with playing time. Since top five picks are pretty much starters right off the bat and lower draft picks are consigned to the bench, of course the higher picks will get more technicals. They have way more opportunities to!

How often are technical fouls committed by players sitting on the bench?

Rarely. Almost the entirety of technical fouls are the result of on-court actions.

It happens, but its rare.

I would guess there are a few outliers (Dennis Rodman, Rasheed Wallace?) who might be dirving this.

"Wallace is currently the NBA's all-time leader in player technical fouls, with over 300.[1] Wallace also holds the single-season record for technical fouls. In the 2000–01 season, Wallace received 41 technical fouls over a span of 80 games, about one technical foul for every two games." (wikipedia)

While looking for Wallace's stats, I found this interesting stat on Jud Buechler (wikipedia): "He is the all-time NBA leader in "trillions" (logging playing time in a game but not getting anything for the stat sheet, resulting in a number followed by 12 zeroes), with 55"

When I think of Rasheed Wallace all my mind pictures is that big goatee jawing up and down as if eating an invisible corn on the cob.

Sheed mellowed out significantly after being traded from the Blazer. He would be an outlying exception to the rule if anything.

Survival bias? Players that stick in the league for long periods of time are better players, and therefore are allowed a longer leash. Young players are not established and risk derailing their careers if they are hurting their team in such a way.

The only counterpoint to examine is there is a strategic advantage to getting a technical foul when losing or slumping in a game. Often times coaches and/or team leaders will intentionally do something to get T'd up to provide an emotional boost the the losing team's morale. This, in turn, hopefully sparks a scoring spurt and improved defensive intensity.

So it is also possible that the number skews towards older players in part because they are leaders of teams trying to boost overall team performance. Being a veteran in the league would imply an increased leadership responsibility and therefore more likelihood that these moves would be made. However that would probably only be 10-20% of the Techs called so it would likely only be a small contributing factor.

As well as the above stated qualities(Playing time may be different for average 12 year vet than a Rookie, strategic value of getting a tech for the game/series) the other factor would seem to be the nature of the fines, as flat fines(2000 for first 5, 3000 for 6-10, 4000 for 11-15), and the associated income effect. Given salaries early in careers are limited by a rookie contract that limits their salary, the relative impact of a fine is more significant for these young players than for 12 year veterans with wages that aren't restricted in this manner. Wage effects may also exist, with the veteran players having 12 years of salary from playing in the NBA to buffer the effect of the fine.

e.g, The Spurs Stephen Jackson:

"I've saved up a lot of money the last 13 years," he said. "I'm good. I'm a man first. Before you disrespect me, I'm going to spend some money. I ain't tripping on that. But you're going to respect me."


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