he's jes a good ole boy

>> 6.05.2009

I cracked up when I saw this Kowalski story/audio clip on Mlive.com.  It concerns the infamous series of pictures taken of Matt Stafford doing his Georgia days, partying with a couple of friends at Talladega.  First of all, to see those pictures posted at a "real media" site like Mlive is funny enough.  Second, it kind of pokes at something that's been crawling around in the dim, dank regions of my head.  Killer notes that these pics have made a positive impression on the fellas in the locker room, because they now know he's one of them: Golden Boy, 5-star recruit, $70M contract, comes from a ritzy suburb of a city where the word "ritz" still has some meaning . . . but ahhh, here he is lifting a keg with an SEC co-ed straight out of central casting!  He IS a real man!

One of the toughest things for me to take about Joey Harrington's failure in Detoit is that from the get-go, I really identified with him.  One of the classic daydreams of the sports fan is to imagine, "Man, what if I was born 6'-4" and ripped and could throw a football through a cow?"  One of the classic delusions that follows is, "Then I'd play just like Brett Favre!"  For me, I realize that if I were born with an athlete's body, but had the same heart, brain, and soul, I'd be like Joey Ballgame.  Besides his well-documented musicianship (I play bass and sing), and his above-average intelligence, there's something inherently self-aware about him that I feel an affinity for.  Brett Favre played with juvenile joy and abandon; Joey played with a cerebral understanding of exactly what was at stake on every down.  Brett Favre played like it was all great fun; Joey played with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

It's evident that some guys are book-dumb but football smart; I know from playing pick-up football that I'm more like the other way around.  The coordination of sensory input, concious mind, and physical reflexes needed is overwhelming; it's like playing a game of chess with your entire body as fast as you can run.  I always felt like Joey had a touch of the same problem.  Even though he probably had more grey matter between the ears than anybody else on the field, he just couldn't call the play, line up the offense, make presnap reads, make adjustments at the line, take the snap, read the defense, remember his footwork, check his second option, keep an ear out for the blindside blitz, make a decision, and throw with good technique all at the same time.  Just too much stuff to keep up with, too much pressure.  Goalies in hockey, pitchers in baseball, and perimeter shooters in basketball all have this strong emotional component to playing their position: confidence, momentum, rhythm, and feeling like you've "got it tonight" are all crucial components of success.  These pressure positions require a degree of mental tenacity above and beyond most other positions on the field.  I've often wondered if, instead of a higher IQ or wonderlic score being an indicator of success at these mentally taxing positions, too high of an IQ is actually detrimental?  Overthinking it, so to speak?  Perhaps with so much running through your head, "paralysis by analysis" is inevitable?

Such is clearly not the case for Pittsburgh Pirates' righthander Ross Olhendorf.

A brilliant mathematical mind and Princeton graduate, who wrote his senior thesis on the average expected ROI for rookie signing bonuses in baseball, Olhendorf is living proof that having an extraordinary analytical mind is no barrier to consistent clutch performance.   So then, what is it?  What is that X-factor--the ability to analyze on-field action, react appropriately, and maintaing composure, technique, and execution--and does Matt Stafford have it?

My friends, if I knew that, I wouldn't be blogging for a living.

(PS: I do not blog for a living.)


Baxtersbuzz,  June 8, 2009 at 12:11 PM  

Well said...

Ty,  June 8, 2009 at 12:46 PM  

Thanks, man. This is only about 1/10th of the post it could have been if I'd taken a month and tried to get all my thoughts on the intelligence/athletics/IQ/instincts stuff down--and even then I'd still probably have plenty more rattling around up here. I'm sure it's all old hat to kinesiologists, though. I should probably go to the MSU Library and save you all some time.


David M,  June 9, 2009 at 11:35 AM  

I am not sure if this is on the mark or not, but I took a sport psychology class about a year ago, and based on that experience, I might venture to guess that the x-factor (believe it or not) has to do with something called a "dominant response."

A dominant response is a person's instinctive response to a stimulus in a pressure situation. It's that action that comes naturally, when there is no time to "think" things through.

The odd thing about my statement is that a dominant response can be changed by practice and such.... One would think that Joey Harrington would have had plenty of practice in stressful situations.
So there must be more to it than as I explained.

Perhaps it has to do with mind-muscle reaction speed, as seen with Hockey goalies.

On elast thing, Drew Henson seemed to have this same phenomenon. Too cerebral a player, and wasnt decisive in his play. Supremely physically gifted, but for whatever reason, he failed.

Ty,  June 9, 2009 at 4:45 PM  

Hmm, interesting. I wonder if it's not some combination of "dominant response" and mind-muscle reactions speed . . . perhaps, how intense the pressure needs to be before the concious mind gives up and instinct takes over?
A combination of good natural instincts, honed to a point by good coaching, and a 'concious will' that easily surrenders control to muscle memory?

David, have you ever read "The Inner Game of Tennis"? It touches upon this as Self 1 and Self 2. Self 2 is the brilliant robot brain of Monica Seles that takes sensory inputs from eyes, ears, nose, and skin, performs differential calculus on the fly, coordinates hundreds of her muscles, gets her to the ball, and crafts a powerful backhand swing that launches the ball with deadly accuracy and just-enough spin. Self 1 is the concious mind of Monica Seles, that growls and howls like a cow at an abbatoir while Self 2 does work . . . and how Self 1 can get in the way of Self 2.

It's a really really interesting book--I actually should re-read it soon.


Ty,  June 9, 2009 at 4:47 PM  

"while Self 2 does work . . . and how Self 1 can get in the way of Self 2."

Just pretend that little bit there made sense, okay? Yeesh.


David M,  June 9, 2009 at 10:26 PM  

I understood what you were saying :)

It sounds like a fascinating read, so long as it isnt took technical.

Ill look into it when I have a chance!

By the way, I published the Millen Draft Blueprints this evening.

I have some issues I want to ask you about concerning the starter analysis. Ill try to get in closer contact soon.

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