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Mar 07 How We Make Decisions

Jan. 30, 2009, 4:28 p.m. (ET)

Most of you reading my work over the years understand the importance I place on improving the most important skill in our sport – reading. As in reading the opponent, anticipating, judging what is going on etc. Stu Sherman took me back over 20 years ago to when his brother Craig, on his way to being the head coach of Mizzou, had his camp group sit and read the newspaper the first morning when that session was to be taught, so I wanted to make that term more clear, and not get tricked again.

So I have been excited to this week another must have book for any big picture thinking coach’s library – Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide. Just a review of the eight pages of the index provides a great glimpse into why I have pre-ordered the book and was delighted to get it this week, well ahead of it's Feb 9th official release date. The first chapter that Amazon lets you read, I simply have to quote one part of, and note the importance of some of the points made, when tied into Malcom Gladwell’s excellent article on quarterbacks previously covered. I love how Leher brings forth the randomness and chaos of sport in his description of the decision making job of an NFL quarterback. Other sections bring back the fallacy of the hot hand - tying in how the brain and the chemicals therein deal with this and other decision making. An enjoyable read to be sure...

With the High Performance and CAP I/II/III Clinics just finished, I have again looked back on the importance of growing the game wide and far, so that the USA National Team coaches have a better chance of finding more talent, while working also on letting the players who are late bloomers, blossom into the great sport talent they have hidden inside. I put together a quiz on this topic, which I include below.

Match Quiz – Match the Athlete Their Sports Background

A. Michael Jordan
B. Larry Walker
C. Kenny Lofton
D. Cynthia Cooper
E. Scottie Pippen
F. Sammy Sosa
G. Mark McGwire
H. Hakeem Olajuwon
I. John Stockton
J. Jackie Joyner-Kersee
K. Chris Drury
L. Tom Brady
M. Mike Whitmarsh
N. Bart Starr

1.  Played only basketball in college at Arizona
2. Was only 5’11” as a senior in High School
3.  Not recruited out of high school
4.  Wanted to be a pro ice hockey goalie, but was cut
5.  Did not start playing ball until 14 years old
6.  Did not start playing ball until 16 years old
7.  Outstanding goalkeeper in soccer
8.  Was a top college basketball player at UCLA
9.  Was cut from his high school hoops team at 16 years old
10.  Eyesight as a child was 20/500
11.  Pitched in the Little League World Series
12.  Played pro basketball before winning an Olympic medal in another team sport
13.  Drafted 199th yet by his 4th season had two Superbowl MVP awards
14.  Drafted 17th round yet won seven league titles

So Brady and MJ are in this quiz above (answers at the end of the blog for those who just can’t wait to know if they passed…). With Michael Jordan, arguably now known as the best basketball player in the history of the sport, it is amazing that:

1. At age 16 (when many are being cut from volleyball programs at too many levels), he was cut from his HS team…

2. At 18, only three colleges really recruited him…and…

3. In the NBA draft, he was not picked first, but third.

If that is not a statement for keeping as many in our sport as long as possible, then I ask you to consider these facts of Tom Brady…Drafted 199th in the NFL Draft, Pro Football Weekly had this to say about him – “Poor build. Very skinny and narrow. Ended the ’99 season weighing 195 pounds and still looks like a rail at 211. Lacks great physical stature and strength. Can get pushed down more easily than you’d like.” Reminds me of what they said about Wayne Gretzky, the “Great One” in the sport of hockey – that if you put a big fur coat on him, he looks like a human pipe cleaner… The value of play in developing decision making skills is for another topic, along with the need to get more “street volleyball” being played… Still, yesterday I looked at a picture of the Pond Hockey Championships, where on 25 outdoor rinks on one section of Lake Michigan, 250 teams got the chance to PLAY the game the way Gretzky grew up, and could only smile in understanding. A competing group did another hundred teams in Minnesota - http://www.pondhockeynac.com the weekend before.

So back to how decisions are made…Lehrer writes wonderfully about the chaos of sport, saying “ The quick decisions made by a quarterback on a football field provide a window into the inner workings of the brain. In the space of a few frenetic seconds, before a linebacker crushes him into the ground, an NFL quarterback has to make a series of hard choices. The pocket is collapsing around him—the pocket begins to collapse before it exists – but he can’t flinch or wince. His eyes must stay focused downfield, looking for some meaningful sign amid the action, and open man on a crowded field. Throwing the ball is the easy part.”

When we sit at home and watch from all our camera angles and the “eye in the sky” it is nothing like being on the ground with all this happening…as Lehrer then notes…”But this view of the game is deeply misleading. After the ball is snapped, the ordered sequence of neat X’s and O’s that fill the spiral-bound playbook degenerates into a street brawl. There’s a symphony of grunts and groans and the meaty echoes of fat men hitting the hard ground. Receivers get pushed off their routes, passing angles get cut off, and inside blitzes derail the best intentions. The offensive line is an unpredictable wrestling match. Before the quarterback can make an effective decision, he needs to assimilate all of this new information and be aware of the approximate location of every player on the field. The savage chaos of the game, the way every play is a mixture of careful planning and risky improvisation is what makes the job of an NFL quarterback so difficult. Even when he’s immersed in the violence – the defensive line clawing at his body – the quarterback has to stand still and concentrate. He needs to look past the mayhem and make sense of all the moving bodies….Each pass is really a guess, a hypothesis launched into the air, but the best quarterbacks find ways to make better guesses….”

I hope all of you reading this get a chance to benefit from the research and better understanding of how we make decisions, as we journey together to become better teachers of our sport and better at growing the game in that process.

Oh, and for those who want to know...

A-9 B-4 C-1 D-6 E-2 F-5 G-10 H-7 I-3 J-8 K-11 L-13 M-12 N-14

Comments

The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On March 14, 2009 Chuck Rey wrote

Thanks for your recommendation on "How We Decide". Excellent book on the mind, I like the insight. A great complimentary book is Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. If you haven't already checked it out, I highly recommend it. ---------------- http://www.coachrey.com

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