Other People’s Stuff: Sports training for Field Awareness   2 comments

Wired Magazine had an article on Field Awareness.  No, really!


I found this on Sir Corby’s blog.  Some excerpts below:


On Being the Great One

Athleticism is impressive but essentially prosaic, a matter of muscle. But vision is something else, something more elusive. Opponents struggling to anticipate Gretzky’s next move often became disoriented, like hunters who think they’re tracking a leopard, only to hear a twig crack directly behind them. The experience was so unnerving that players who had to face Gretzky repeatedly exhibited a kind of automatic dread. Describing the feeling in a 1997 Cigar Aficionado interview, former St. Louis Blues goalie Mike Liut said woefully: “I’d see him come down the ice and immediately start thinking, ‘What don’t I see that Wayne’s seeing right now?’ “

Such talent has long been assumed to be innate. “Coaches tend to think you either have it or you don’t,” Vint says. Unlike a jump shot or a penalty kick, field sense — which mixes anticipation, timing, and an acute sense of spatial relations — is considered essentially untrainable, a gift. Gretzky himself once fuzzily described it as having “a feeling about where a teammate is going to be. A lot of times, I can just turn and pass without looking.”

But Vint rejects the notion that Gretzky-style magic is unteachable. … [Processing cockpit readouts], Vint believes, has something in common with passing a puck. “They’re both about taking in, processing, and reacting to complex information,” he says.

Vint knows that the skill he calls “perceptual ability” develops, in part, to help a physical underdog against bigger, stronger players. If you can anticipate a throw, you don’t need to be as fast.


On Reading Cues

What separated the pros from everyone else was the ability to pull directional information out of the early stages of a swing and therefore to predict a split second earlier where to head. This fraction of time is game- changing. A serve going 120 miles per hour takes approximately a third of a second to travel the 60 feet from baseline to service line. This means that an expert, who doesn’t have to wait until contact, has twice as long to move, plant his feet, and swing.


On Vision

Farrow has found that players who make poor decisions tend to glance at targets, rather than pausing on them. They’re also more drawn to motion. “In a lot of team sports, you’re attracted to the area of greatest movement,” Farrow says. “But just be-cause there’s a person running fast and waving his arms doesn’t mean he’s the best person to kick to.”


On Cross-Training

Learning these skills is difficult, however — particularly for older players with established habits. So Farrow is also thinking about how young athletes can develop field sense before their coaches make them believe it’s impossible to acquire. To figure that out, he recently began interviewing elite players about their early life in sports. One factor is backyard games, or what Farrow calls unstructured play. Playing soccer with 30 other kids in a dusty village plot turns out to foster the kind of flexible thinking and acute spatial attention that pays off in high-level competition.


Great Spike, I Want This Program!

That’s not his only project. Vint mentions a two-time Olympian who recently began training in a new sport, the modern pentathlon. “She’s great at swimming and running,” Vint says. “Decent at shooting and equestrian. But in fencing, she’s terrible.” Being a good fencer means being able to read subtle cues from an opponent’s body and foil position — something fencers normally pick up over years of practice. A perceptual- training program, Vint theorizes, could accelerate that learning curve, transforming his protégé from zero to Zorro.


On Telegraphs and Body Feints

Inexperienced volleyball hitters tend to telegraph their hits, says Vint, who has puzzled over these issues with Farrow: “If they’re doing a quick set in the middle, they may stiffen their arms. If it’s a back-set, they’ll arch their back before the ball arrives.”

The result has been a kind of athletic arms race, the ability to read shots driving a corresponding need for better fakes. When I point this out to Vint, he seems pleased. Like any advantage, perceptual training will likely upset the existing balance. But eventually things will even out. “In the long run,” he says confidently, “I think the level of play will go up.”

Posted September 4, 2009 by wistric in Musings

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