Monday, 23 April 2012

Meeting A World Cup Legend

I was fortunate enough to meet George Cohen recently – what a lovely bloke! He was mostly talking about his 1966 experiences and his successful battles with cancer. He did, however, remark that too many full backs are ball watching when they should be watching the player they’re marking. This means that they can often be seen running backwards half-turned, making it easy for their opponent to get past them. He said he’s seen coaches getting players to run along narrow lines and getting them to turn on the shout of “Turn”. No wonder the great man was horrified. Surely, even the most junior of coaches must realise that this is completely useless unless wingers are made to shout “Turn” every time they attack. It beggars belief that professional footballers are being coached in this way. It’s on a par with teaching people to dribble by setting out a slalom of cones. It’s already been 46 years since England won the World Cup. Until the principles of sports vision become more widely understood and practiced, it could be at least another 46 years before we win it again. David Donner

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Olympic Countdown - Handball

The subject of discrimination against women in sport is a topical one, with a recent documentary by Gabby Logan for the BBC, and the controversy about the refusal of Augusta National to allow women members. If you’re refereeing a sporting event, a foul is a foul, and in theory it shouldn’t matter whether it’s made by a male or female athlete. However, it’s difficult to escape from seeing others as stereotypes. Research has shown that people explicitly expect and prefer that women show traits such as kindness and gentleness, and that men show confidence and aggressiveness (Eagly 2007; Deaux & Lafrance 1998). So it’s common for individuals of either gender to be more shocked by aggressive behaviour from women than from men (Deaux & Lafrance 1998; Knight, Guthrie, Page & Fabes, 2002). Indeed, female interactions are perceived as more than male interactions, even when both situations are similar (Condry & Ross, 1995). With regard to handball, Souchon et al (2004) found that male referees more frequently gave the ball back to the victim of aggressive behaviours in females than in male games, and that referees gave disciplinary punishments more frequently when fouls were made by women than by men. So it seems that referees do apply the rules of the sport differently according the gender of the players. There’s evidence that this bias can persist even at high levels of the sport. Kolnes (1995) found that some women playing for the top international Norwegian handball team thought that they are refereed very severely and unfairly when they behave too aggressively or are perceived as acting in a masculine manner. According to these women, severe punishments could be avoided by adopting a seductive and feminine (non-argumentative) attitude towards the referees, who are usually men. It’s possible that referees play advantage more often than men, if men are more skilful at being able to continue their play despite being fouled. However, this effect would be less likely to occur at the highest levels when women are more skilled. To investigate this further, Souchon et al (2009) filmed 30 matches (15 men’s and 15 women’s) from the First Division of the French Handball Championships. All the referees were men. In handball, there are two types of award that the referee can give when there’s a foul: award a 9-metre throw (give the ball back to the victim where the foul occurred); or award a 7-metre throw (a direct shot on goal like a football penalty). There are also three possible disciplinary sanctions: a yellow card warning; a 2-minute suspension from the game; or a red card, meaning permanent exclusion from the game. For the 9-metre throws, referees were more likely to punish female players than male players, but there was no difference for the 7-metre throws. So referees were more likely to mete out mild punishment (as opposed to no punishment) to female players, while giving severe punishments to the same extent to both sexes. There was no difference between the sexes when it came to disciplinary decisions. The lack of difference for severe offences and discipline may be because these decisions are much rarer in games. For instance, there were relatively few yellow cards or 2-minute suspensions, and no red cards in any of the 30 matches. Players averaged more than 150 transgressions in each match. Souchon gives “benign” and “hostile” sexism as possible explanations for the referees’ behaviour. They might hold the (subconscious) view that women have less sporting ability than men, so may be less able to withstand being fouled, so would be less likely to play advantage. They may also believe that a woman who falls during a game is not play-acting, whereas a man is more likely to “dive” (benign sexism). On the other hand, if they have a perception that women should not be aggressive, any aggressive behaviour they do show will be magnified, and more likely to be punished (hostile sexism). I've umpired a few ladies’ cricket games, and always enjoyed them. I’ve never had any disciplinary issues, but if they were to occur I’ll try and treat them the same as I would do in a men’s match. I still think I might be a bit shocked, though. David Donner

Monday, 2 April 2012

Olympic Countdown - Gymnastics

I’ve described what Joan Vickers has called the “Quiet Eye”, when experts fix their gaze on a particular place, usually just before making the required movement in their sport (such as a golfer about to putt). One would think this would be rather difficult for a gymnast performing multiple twists and turns, but it seems that expert gymnasts do actually have a similar strategy. Several investigators have found that vision is essential in to a stable landing after performing a somersault (Davlin et al, 2001; Luis & Tremblay, 2008). But until recently, there was little evidence to show exactly how this was achieved. To resolve this, Heinen (2011) got experts and apprentices to carry out a tucked back aerial somersault on a trampoline whilst wearing a helmet fitted with an infra-red camera that tracked their eye movements. One of the striking differences that were found between experts and apprentices was that experts didn’t blink at all during somersaults, whereas apprentices nearly always blinked. This is a strong indication that experts are using visual information to judge their body position more accurately. For eye fixations, the researchers defined a fixation as when the eyes were fixating a specific position for at least 100 milliseconds. They found that for experts, the longer they fixated during take-off, the more accurate were their landings. But this wasn’t true for apprentices. The reason could be related to take-off velocity. Take-off velocity is important because it relates to how long the athlete is in the air. They need enough flight-time to be able to complete the task accurately. It’s already been found that it’s easier to determine your speed through vision than from feedback from your muscles or ears (Lee et al, 1992). This suggests that through experience, experts are able to use visual information at the start of their somersault to adjust the time they take to extend their body, and thus make better landings (in the centre of the trampoline). There’s still plenty of research to be done, for instance finding out exactly what the experts are fixating. But there’s one obvious piece of advice to novice gymnasts. Keep your eyes open. David Donner