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Friday, 29 August 2014

Birds don't make the best ornithologists

This week I listened to episode 44 of one of my favourite podcasts - Inquiring Minds. It was an interview with David Epstein on the 'science of athletes'.

The podcast culminated with some really interesting points regarding the concept of 'talent' - what it really means, how it can be measured or influenced. One particularly interesting basis was the traditional idea that '10000 hours' training leads excellence in any particular skill, vs what's in the genes.
Exhibit A: Kalenjin (regional Kenya) long distance runners. Well worth the listen to get the full detail.

Another interesting example was a female softball player Jennie Finch that made the news in 2004 striking out professional male players. The men expected to have no problems hitting her out of the park, but players confused their perceived reliance on ability to track ball in flight and rely on 'talented' reaction time with what they actually do.

(Getty Images)
In fact, this article I found when searching for Jennie Finch goes into very similar detail (since it's written by the interviewee!) and suggests
Given the speed of the pitch and the limitations of our physiology, it seems to be a miracle that anybody hits the ball at all.
It's apparent that players interpret the pitcher's shoulder, body rotation, ball thread rotation in flight and other factors to calculate the region the hitter expects the ball to fly by. But since thrown underarm, all information players read to calculate where the ball will land - is lost.
They've even got a bigger, slower ball to hit.

They found likeness to chess, where a good player sees the entire board - a number of moves ahead.
I found likeness to pool/snooker. After the break I might see the next 4-5 balls I can pot in a row. Newer players are often overwhelmed just to work out which one to try.

I'm sure my game would slow right down if was faced with a different shaped table.
Pool tables I wouldn't enjoy
I don't do the topic justice, but I recommend both this particular episode and the podcast in general. I listen to podcast in my commute to work - I play to post my favourites one day, I'd be interested to hear any other recommendations.

The blog post title? A quote from David during the interview

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