Apparently, when the Milwaukee Bucks selected Jabari Parker with the second overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft, they used his facial expressions to help them make that decision (Teams Turn to a Face Reader, Looking for That Winning Smile). The Bucks hired facial coding expert Dan Hill to help them evaluate the emotional attributes of prospective players based on their facial expressions when they answered interview questions such as “How would your mom describe you?”
On a first glance, the technique seems dubious. Parker was considered one of the top two players in the draft by most basketball insiders, and no rumors surfaced that the Bucks had a serious interest in Dante Exum prior to the draft, as the Times article suggests. The analysis of the facial expressions of five other athletes is consistent with popular perception of those athletes in the absence of facial coding, so it is hard to see what can be gained with the technique by retrospectively evaluating athletes with ingrained reputations. Professional sports teams are always looking for an edge in discovering talent, but we need a study that compares facial coding scores calculated before a player’s professional career to that player’s career statistics to attribute any significance to the technique.
But if more teams do employ Hill and/or his disciples, how will this affect player evaluation? Will players get coached to control their facial expressions, in much the same way they are now coached to conduct interviews? And how does facial coding relate to actual performance? If an athlete improves his skills, will those increased abilities manifest themselves in their facial expressions? Can an athlete improve her physical performance by endeavoring to portray certain emotions?