Archive for the ‘Golf’ Category
If you had to choose a sport – any sport – that you had to try to become a World Champion in, what would you choose?
I bet it would not be the 100m.
I have previously referred to how some sportspeople do not have a lot of competition in their sport, and so comparing them with other (more popular) sports is massively unfair. Say, for example, comparing the 100m Butterfly gold medalist to the 100m running gold medalist in any competition is a little unfair because the 100m runner has faced so much more competition than the swimmer in their career.
My point is emphasised when I hear yesterday Usain Bolt is considering taking up the Long Jump, and instantly people are discussing the 8.95m World Record (which is 18 years old). Admittedly there is a correlation between the requirements for these events, but could you imagine Tiger Woods announcing he was going to take up Baseball and people speculating if he would break the season home run record? Likewise if A-Rod announced he was going to try to play on the PGA Tour, no one would speculate that Jack Nicklaus‘ Major record was in danger.
I have to say I would be a little put out if I were the current Long Jump World Champion, as what people are effectively saying is: “Someone who has never competed in your event may take it up in the future, and if they do they will beat you by over 30cm”.
Another example is the occasional article we see in the newspaper or on the news about a World Champion sportsperson who is struggling to be able to afford to fund the requirements for their sport. I personally feel for these people because they have obviously worked hard to achieve the pinnacle of their sport – and I think this is excellent – but cynically think that if enough people really cared they would not be the feature of such articles.
This is not an attack on sports that do not face a lot of competition. In fact I personally enjoy participating and watching a number of such sports (most likely because I got beaten badly in SWIS Form-2 100m sprint final). Additionally, there is little people in these sports can do to overcome this. It is not like I think Rugby players should train to race in Track and Field to prove they are ‘better’ athletes. All they can do is to try and achieve the top of their sport, and all power to them to achieve this.
Why is “anticipation” not a skill to be rewarded in Track and Field? It is in most other sports I can think of – Rugby, Cricket, Football, Basketball, Hockey, Cricket, Baseball… But also individual sports like every Racket sport and Golf.
Usain Bolt recently ran 9.43 seconds for the 100m at the World Track and Field Champs in Berlin (first man ever under 9.50), but because it took him 0.146 of a second to react to the gun he was only awarded a time of 9.58. A logical thinking person may suggest Bolt needs to work on the start and look to lower the 0.146 seconds reaction time and then he would have achieved the better time. But in fact this is not the case, because you are not allowed to start within the first 0.100 of the race in the 100m. In fact if you do once you are warned, and twice disqualified!
In other sports your time does not begin until you do (for example you have an ankle bracelet of some form when running a marathon and your time starts once you cross the start line). I understand for the spectacle of a ‘race’ it is much more desirable that the athletes run at the same time and so I am not suggesting that athletes ‘go’ whenever they want and we subtract their start time from their finish time. What I am suggesting is that it seems strange that someone should be penalised for accurately anticipating the start. In 2010 the IAAF will have a no tolerance policy to false starting. I think at the same time they should change the rule so athletes are only ‘false started’ if they start before the gun (ie before 0.000 on the clock).
For other left field posts see:
Yodelling Diet (and you thought diets didn’t work – shame on you!)
Athletics vs Swimming (aka: Why running backwards should be an Olympic Sport)
Last week the Halberg Awards provided some interesting nominations and selections.
Some people think Scott Dixon was hard done by after a breakthrough year, and that Willis was lucky to be nominated after only finishing third in his final – both fair points I think.
The awards were obviously biased towards Olympians. I do not resent the people nominating and selecting the athletes, as they have a near impossible task, which basically comes down to personal-subjective relevance. If this were not true then we would not have seen at least three of the nominated people.
On the women’s side Vili won ahead of a Paralympics multi-gold medal Swimmer, the World Bowls Champion and a Triathlete. Sophie Pascoe should be gutted that her 3 golds and 1 silver was not enough to beat Vili’s 1 gold – perhaps if Pascoe had won 4 gold in the pool…?
And on the men’s side picking a winner was just as subjective: Winner Dixon was up against two Olympian gold medalists, the US Amateur Golf Champion, and Willis. Willis was never a contender, and his selection was similar to Pascoe’s in the women’s – that is to say nothing more than a public pat on the back.
If we are going to judge on “relevance” then what about Ryan Nelson? As captain of a premier league Soccer Football Team, surely he should be considered ahead of a bronze medal winner at the Olympics? It seems we are judging more on relevance to the “average” New Zealander than we are “world” relevance.
The fundamental problem is the desire to compare things that are incredibly difficult to compare simply for the sake of the Awards. What is better: Chicken and Cranberry or Meatlovers Pizza? An excellent performance in a “World” Sport (like Football or Golf), or to be the World Champion/Gold Medal Winner in one that very few people care about?
Defining your goal is crucial to the success of any exercise and/or nutrition intervention. This is because it determines exactly what you should be focusing on. To use an obvious example: is your goal to look good, or perform well? Yes, there are large overlapping aspects of the program, but their prescriptions would fundamentally differ. Also, do you want to look good once (ie at a wedding, or this summer), or are you looking at the long term? Again, I would approach both scenarios very differently.
Once the goal is decided, spend a good amount of time focusing on your particular strengths & weaknesses. For example:
- If you want to lose weight: When do you eat well, and when badly?
- If you want to play better golf: What is the best/worst part of your game?
- If you want to become a better basketball player: What aspects of your game lets you down, and what do you always do well?
The biggest bang for your buck is often eliminating weaknesses (even though most athletes enjoy practicing what they are good at more).
Failing you having an easily identifiable strength or weakness, then put your time into what gives you the biggest bang for your buck for your specific goal. For example:
- For someone wanting to lose weight this is undoubtedly what you eat.
- For an athlete of a sport in which body composition is not important (Snooker, Golf etc): undoubtedly, practicing the skills of the sport.
- For an Ironman, spend some time on the bike.
Once you have identified what you need to focus on then you need to break the skills of the sport and/or your eating patterns down a little more. For example:
- If you are like me then most of your bad eating is post dinner – this therefore is where you need to focus your energy. For others it may be lunch time at work, or skipping breakfast.
- If you play golf then focus on your short game as this is where the most shots are played per round (40% of strokes per round are putts for most golfers).
- And if you are a fighter, don’t worry too much about your dancing around the ring.
Unfortunately the reality of many elite sports these days is that the technology to test and catch drug cheats is, in all but a few cases, going to come after the sporting bodies know an illegal drug even exists.
But is this the governing bodies fault? Not at all. How can these organisations possible compete with companies who manufacture these performance enhancing substances full time? How can they predict what the new, specifically manufactured, performance enhancing drugs are going to be? It is close to impossible, and for this reason there is always going to be a lag before tests are developed to detect new drugs. In some cases this will not be till well after the athlete in question has set world records and retired.
So what is the answer?
Unfortunately there is nothing little governing bodies can do to prevent intelligent, well planned cheats from getting away with it. Only those on lower budgets and/or of lower intelligence will ever get caught.
Perhaps the only answer lies in an ‘open’ drug Olympics, where athletes can take what they like? Some cynics would argue that is not too far from what we have now…
“It never gets easier, you just go faster.” Greg LeMond
I have just finished a great book by Malcom Gladwell called Outliers. One of the themes of the book is how people who have achieved success have more often than not had a number of fortunate events take place in their lives (including in many cases begin born at the right time!), and have spent a lot of time practicing their area of expertise.
It reminds me of the success of many sportsmen.
Time spent training and competing is an attribute that people often fail to identify when discussing the success of athletes. We hear how an athlete is ‘gifted’ or has ‘natural talent’, but when you dive a little deeper you find that the person actually has simply trained hard and regularly – and not a lot more. Also, doing the sport/event from a young age is crucial. Think Tiger Woods. I think a lot of his success comes from practicing regularly for year upon year – and since he was very young.
So the secret is really no secret at all. If you want to get good at something practice specifically that. If you want to improve your flexibility then stretch. If you want to run faster then spend some more time running. If you want to lose fat then spend less time eating food you know is no good for you. If you want to be better at shooting free throws then shoot a lot of free throws.
The recipe is simple. Work hard at what you want to improve in, and you almost certainly will.
Everything is trainable.
Here is an impressive demonstration from ‘The Chin Up Master’:
Some interesting points:
- This is performed at a playground – no membership or specialised machinery needed!
- The “full” pull ups (that start at about 45 seconds into the video) are an incredibly hard exercise. Being able to do even one of these makes it worth taking a video of yourself and putting it on Youtube!
- The difference between a pull up and a chin up can be found here.
- These exercises are some of the best upper body exercises you can possibly do, no matter what your goal.
- If you find them too difficult then your aim should be to build up to them. Do them after your warm up, and if you can only do 1 repetition (or half a repetition) do not worry. You will gradually get stronger…
Here is a great talk by Malcolm Gladwell speaking on how to hire the right person. What interested me was his analysis of the draft systems in professional sports.
The ‘draft’ is where professional sports teams choose who to sign onto a professional contract from a group of young up-and-coming players. Teams spend large sums of money looking at potential players, and send scouts to the ‘combine’ where they view and analyse physical data on the young men.
Check out this clip to see a little of what goes on at the combine:
This is something young athletes train very hard for as it is believed the higher score you get, the better player you will be, and the better contract you will sign.
But is this the case? Gladwell’s analysis would suggest no.
Two interesting points from the talk if you don’t have time to watch the whole video:
- NBA Rookie of the year for 2008 ranked 78th out of 81 Basketball prospects on physical testing in his year.
- IQ testing for Quarterbacks (NFL) show similar results: The most successful players ranked lowest on the intelligence test.
It seems scouts tend to test physical measures because it gives them an objective result to base their decision on. But many of the testing criteria are negatively correlated with performance in the professional leagues – based on history, if you were interested in recruiting a good Basketball player in the NBA you should choose an athlete who scores low on physical testing, and if you are interested in recruiting a successful professional quarterback you should choose one that scores low on the IQ test.
Gladwell seems to have analysed the NFL and IQ score over a number of years. I would be interested to see if this was the case over longer periods of time in the NHL performance and physical testing also.
If he is right it would seem being strong, good endurance, power etc is pointless once you get to the draft stage. So is there a need for physical conditioning at all?
When it comes to judging how good a player will be it may be best to simply look at how well they do on the field (ice, court, pitch etc). Other measures may be appropriate to see how the player will fit into the team environment etc, but by far the previous success of the athlete in a game situation is the important factor.
So if physical conditioning is so un-important then why do so many athletes credit it with their improved performance?
It is a chicken and the egg scenario: In this case the chicken comes well before the egg – that is to say physical conditioning makes a huge difference to the professional athlete, but it does not turn an ordinary athlete into a great one.
It is similar to the train your weakness theory – to become a better athlete you should train your weakness.
Players entering the draft who are not well physically conditioned have made it as far as they have on ‘skill’. Once they get into professional team environments where they will come under the supervision of full time conditioning coaches, strength coaches etc then they can become even better athletes/players – that is they have the most room to improve, and so may represent the best buys for the scouts.
The reverse may be true for the kids testing high on these physical tests: They have gotten as far as they have (partly) because they are so well conditioned physically – they have been boxing above their weight and have less room for improvement in the professional environment.
Of course I am a big advocate for conditioning beyond the direct needs of the sport you play. Undoubtedly a stronger athlete is less likely to get injured would be the most obvious benefit of strength and conditioning.
I think the take home message is that it is great to measure things – but only if you can use that information to your benefit. I think the smart scouts should actually be looking for athletes that are weak, inflexible, have low lactate thresholds, VO2max, and power levels because it is these athletes that are the ones they could make into the next great one.
Who is fitter: Dancers or Swimmers?
It seems like a simple question really. Swimmers are much fitter… right?
What it really comes down to is exactly how you define and measure ‘fitness‘. I would say most people measure it in terms of endurance and body composition. In fact, these are just two of many: agility, strength, power, flexibility, range of motion, balance, coordination are all considered fitness variables also.
So it really depends where you come from, and what interests you. A Yoga instructor would no doubt put an emphasis on range of motion, flexibility and balance. An Ironman on endurance. A Basketballer on agility, power, and body composition (height) perhaps.
There used to be a great program on TV called Clash of the Codes that pitted great sportsmen from different codes against each other. Even this is not a reliable measure of fitness though because it really depends on precisely what events were held as to who would win. I imagine the events chosen had more to do with TV appeal than they did ensuring all the possible fitness variables were tested.
In the aforementioned dancers vs swimmers study the researchers compared 10 factors of ‘fitness’ and found that dancers gained better results in 7 of the 10 – when taking into account body size.
I have always considered gymnastics to be a sport I wish I had taken up at a young age. The reason is because to me they seem to be the most rounded athletes out. But even gymnastics is not the ‘perfect’ sport – the one obvious fitness variable they lack is endurance.