Thursday, 20 July 2017
IF YOUR CHILD IS A TALENTED CRICKETER
I was listening recently to a discussion between Jonathan Agnew and Simon Hughes on Test Match Special. They were discussing the fact that more and more top batsmen are left-handed. Five of the top ten run-makers in Test cricket of all time are left-handed - Cook, Border, Sangakara, Lara and Chanderpaul – and eight out of the top twenty. Yet only 10% of the general population are left-handed. The percentage of top baseball batters being left-handed is at least as high.
Scientists have discovered that the corpus callosum – the bundle of nerves that connects the two halves of the brain – is thicker in left-handed people than in right-handers. They speculate that because this may allow the two halves of the brain to work faster and more efficiently, left-handers have faster reaction times. Specifically, they have more time to make late adjustments to their bat when playing fast deliveries or deliveries that deviate shortly before arrival.
That’s interesting, because there have been studies which have shown that elite cricketers do not have especially fast reaction times in general, but have more time to play their shots because they are better able to anticipate where the ball is going to be than lesser players. It may be, however, that there is a difference in reaction times when more complicated actions are required, such as playing a cricket shot, than making a simple reaction to a sound, such as pressing a button.
The discovery about the corpus callosum refers to people who are completely left-handed, whereas many of those who bat left-handed are actually right-handed – they bowl, throw and write right-handed. One answer, discussed in the program, is that when they bat left-handed their right hand is at the top of the bat guiding the stroke, and this could lead to cleaner hitting than when the dominant hand is at the bottom of the bat. Sachin Tendulkar, the great Indian batsman, is left-handed but batted as a right-hander, giving him the same advantage.
Another point discussed was about eye dominance. If you are righthanded and right-eye dominant, you need to have a more square-on stance to face the bowler, whereas batting left-handed has your dominant eye with a good view of the bowler even with a side-on position. Apparently, Alastair Cook is left-eye dominant, which may explain his more open stance.
I thought one of the most interesting comments came from the former South African captain Graeme Smith. He is right-handed but was a left-handed opening batsman. He says that normally he feels more comfortable using his right hand, but if he is using the two hands together, such as when batting or playing golf, it feels more comfortable left-handed.
“Aggers” wondered if you have a young batsman, whether you should establish their eye dominance at an eye examination, and I would, of course, say that would be a good idea. But I wouldn’t be too prescriptive. Encourage the child to experiment batting both right-and left-handed so they can discover what feels best for them. And if they can do both, they’ll be great switch-hitters.
Thursday, 25 May 2017
Yorkshire and former England cricketer Gary Ballance is in the form of his life, having already scored 1,000 runs in all competitions this season. However, his hopes of an international recall this summer are reduced because England are playing three day-night tests with a pink ball in the next 11 months.
The problem for Ballance is that he is colour deficient (a better term than “colour blind” because he can see colours, but sometimes can’t distinguish between them), and has particular difficulty distinguishing between pinks and greens. The pink ball would probably be quite clear against a white sightscreen, but may be very hard to pick up when it bounces. It may also disappear when he’s fielding as the ball could get lost against the background of a crowd in the stands.
There are tints that can enhance certain colours. For instance, clay-pigeon shooters find a light purple colour can enhance the orange of the clay against a background of trees. But there are also tints designed specifically for those who are colour deficient.
One such is the Chromagen contact lens. In 2000, an experiment was done to test the effectiveness of Chromagen lenses in real life for 14 colour deficient volunteers. 13 out of the 14 expressed interest in wearing the lenses on at least an occasional basis, though only two were prepared to pay the full cost. I remember fitting these lenses many years ago to an electrician who had difficulty distinguishing red wires in poor light. He found the lens useful for that specific purpose: I suppose he was highly motivated not to electrocute himself.
For a cricketer, a contact lens is likely to be better than a spectacle tint because spectacles are often impractical under a helmet. The vision will seem strange initially, so it will be a question of trying it for a time to see if it helps.
Colour discrimination isn’t just a problem for cricketers. A number of top snooker players - Mark Allen, Peter Ebdon, Mark Williams and Stephen Lee – are also colour deficient. Their biggest problem is usually distinguishing the brown ball when it’s amongst the reds. A red-enhancing tint may help, but it seems that these players generally get round the problem by asking the referee if they can’t see where the brown is.
Thursday, 16 February 2017
How to become great at just about anything
This was the title of a podcast I was listening to recently.
It featured Professor K Anders Ericcson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, Tallahassee.
His main idea is that what we call talent depends on many hours of “deliberate practice”; that even someone considered to be a child prodigy, such as Mozart, actually only became a genius thanks to starting very young and training long and hard. As he says, “If you compare the kind of music pieces that Mozart can play at various ages to today’s Suzuki-trained children, he is not exceptional. If anything, he’s relatively average”. This is, in part, because standards in most areas of human activity have risen over time. To stand out as a genius today requires a higher standard than it used to. This is particularly noticeable in sports where achievements can be measured, such as athletics. Ericcson is the originator of the idea that you need to practise for 10,000 hours to become great at something. He was studying the most accomplished musicians at German academy, and found that, on average, they had practised for more than 10,000 hours by the time they were 20.
Ericcson distinguishes between “purposeful practice”, where you train on one particular aspect of your performance that you want to improve, and “deliberate practice”. The latter is based on proven techniques to improve skills that have previously been established, and involves specific goals to improve some aspect of the performance. Feedback is also important, so you can tell what adjustments you need to make.
Another key component of deliberate practice is that it requires the student to push themselves so that they are constantly trying to achieve things that are just beyond their current abilities. As Ericcson says, “It demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable”. It relies on the fact that you’re making errors, and then finding ways to eliminate those errors.But Ericcson stresses that 10,000 hours isn’t a magic number. That number of hours will make you more experienced, but will not necessarily take you to expert levels without the other elements of deliberate practice.
Dr Ericcson’s research seems to be focused on individual activity, and I think that in team sports the evidence is slightly different. We know, for instance, that someone who has played many different sports in their youth needs far fewer hours to reach expert level in a different team sport.
It also seems that in many team sports, “deliberate play” might be a better description of what’s required. Many elite team players will describe having spent many hours of their childhood playing games such as football with their friends or relatives, often in a nearby park. They will often imagine that they are their favourite team or player. And I’m sure they would describe those times as anything but “not enjoyable”.