Brainyball

The other day we had an interesting discussion about why it is that teams find it so hard to identify and bring through young talent.

Ken Arneson has another take, and it’s very persuasive.

I’ve often thought that half the key to successful sport is the ability to not think.   Ken goes over this side of things too.

The irony that lies at the core of the Moneyball book is that A’s GM Billy Beane was trying to find a way to weed out players who were essentially just like himself. Beane is a very intelligent guy with an chiseled athletic body whose intelligence got in the way of his performance. You look at him, and you think he was born to be a star athlete. But he never became one. He’d get so worked up about every little failure that his swing and approach got all screwed up. He couldn’t handle the mental part of the game.

Which is odd, if you think about it. It isn’t the players’ statistics that are causing players like Beane to fail. It’s their brains. If you really want to be able to recognize players like Beane in advance, shouldn’t you try to do this with a deeper understanding of brains?

In Billy Beane’s case, the constant striving for improvement was nothing but counterproductive. In Zito’s case, we see some mixed results. So even though it’s a different sport and a different position, I have a hard time believing that the key to Aaron Rodgers’ success is simply a matter of willpower, that same constant striving for improvement.

If I had to guess, a quarterback’s success involves spacial pattern recognition, the ability to quickly recognize types of player movement, to filter out inessential patterns and recognize significant ones, and act on them. Maybe some players filter out too much information, and others not enough. Maybe there are places in the brain that Aaron Rodgers turns on or off in better ways than the quarterbacks who failed. Those places are mostly a mystery to us now. [my emphasis- RA]

Good stuff, eh?   You need a magical combination of players who are sharp enough to take on what they’re being taught, but who have the ability to then not think too much, and whose brains are super-aware of how things are happening around them on the field.  In a business where teams routinely spunk millions away on bad managerial choices, fringe players’ wages and agents’ fees, you might hope there’d be some scope for forward thinking like the above.

 

3 thoughts on “Brainyball

  1. funny thing confidence – watched the Manchester derby, it seems that getting games in Rio’s absence is doing wonders for Smalling, he looked really pumped up for it and made some important challenges and interceptions, then right at the end he was surging forward on a run ahead of everyone and when nani failed to get a cross to him, Smalling seemed to get a bit petulant! Fergerson surely saw in him not just talent but the kind of personality that could be nurtured and managed.

  2. Isn’t this just another way of describing a player as intelligent in game terms rather than IQ?
    For example I wouldn’t hazard a guess at Rooney’s IQ, but in football terms he is more intelligent than most.
    If a player makes a through pass that his team-mate doesn’t run onto, is that an intelligence mis-match? – the sort that good coaching can fix.
    My favourite boyhood team was the Man U of Best, Law, Charlton & Crerand. The story was that Matt Busby used to tell them “just go out and play”. I don’t believe that, but I’m sure it made coaching easier with so much football intelligence around.

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