Top Thirteen Recent New York Times Sports Articles

Sept. 01, 2009, 2:32 p.m. (ET)

I had Nurture Shock on my next thing to blog about, but today a note from Carl McGown came in this morning with yet another New York Times article that is well worth reading and sharing.  This one is about great footwork, great reading, and great racquet speed as a look is taken at the incomparable Roger Federer in tennis, another high speed rebound sport where what matters happens before or at contact, on the OTHER side of the net, not on your side. This is another reason for my exasperation as coaches continue to train in pairs on their side of the net...but I digress, as that was covered in the last blog...

Federer's Footwork: Artful and EfficientFederer's Footwork: Artful and EfficientFederer's Footwork, Artful and Efficient...

The note from Carl got me thinking about all the other great NYT articles I have read in the last few years, and how these too should be shared with those of you caring to change and improve. It also serves as an important reminder that to grow our sport best, we each need to share best ideas and practices, as Carl and I have done for decades.  Our sport is too small and too important to keep secrets - we need to get the best ideas into the hands and minds of all teaching the sport, so we all benefit in the end with a stronger pipeline that each of us then tap into.  Feel free to comment at the end of this blog,  email, or pass along the core teaching/change points in this and other blogs and the grassroots button now fully populated on the USA Volleyball homepage.

So here is my "Top Thirteen" list of things from the Big Apple's famous newspaper.

Note:  My hero growing up as a player was Kirk Kilgour, from UCLA, a lefty outside who hammered harder than Thor. My dad and his dad were fraternity brothers at USC after serving in WWII, and Kirk was the first player from America to succeed overseas in the Italian pro league. He also was a great USA National team player. His exploits in the first NCAA Men's National Championships can be viewed in this great Sports Illustrated article about that event, by CLICKING HERE

 One day in 1976, something happened to the standard in the gym where he and his Italian team were training, so the coach said go over there and keep active. Over there included a gymnastic vault, and they started to jump over it, men being boys. Kirk, a competitor always, tried to one up his teammates and flip. And missed. And turned himself into a quadriplegic.  Kirk said to my kids and me once during one of our many  visits with him after the accident, that there are lots of things he could not do since the injury, but he focused on the millions of things he still could do. He head coached at Pepperdine, did the color for the 1984 Olympic volleyball broadcasts with Bob Beattie, and he lived life, in love, until a few years ago when pneumonia nabbed him.  The LA Times obit does a nice summary of Kirk... CLICK HERE TO VIEW

For me, he remains one of my heroes, and as often as I can, I use his jersey number to remind me of his strength, wit, competitiveness and spirit of life, thus, my top 13...I hope each of you learn from these others sharing their ideas and then teach what you have learned to others who are helping kids be the best they can be...

#1 Taking Play Seriously
By ROBIN MARANTZ HENIG Published: February 17, 2008

On a drizzly Tuesday night in late January, 200 people came out to hear a psychiatrist talk rhapsodically about play - not just the intense, joyous play of children, but play for all people, at all ages, at all times. (All species too; the lecture featured touching photos of a polar bear and a husky engaging playfully at a snowy outpost in northern Canada.) Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play, was speaking at the New York Public Library's main branch on 42nd Street. He created the institute in 1996, after more than 20 years of psychiatric practice and research persuaded him of the dangerous long-term consequences of play deprivation. In a sold-out talk at the library, he and Krista Tippett, host of the public-radio program ''Speaking of Faith,'' discussed the biological and spiritual underpinnings of play. Brown called play part of the ''developmental sequencing of becoming a human primate. If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being, play is as fundamental as any other aspect of life, including sleep and dreams.''

#2 At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard
By SARA RIMER  Published: January 12, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - For as long as anyone can remember, introductory physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was taught in a vast windowless amphitheater known by its number, 26-100. Squeezed into the rows of hard, folding wooden seats, as many as 300 freshmen anxiously took notes while the professor covered multiple blackboards with mathematical formulas and explained the principles of Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism.

But now, with physicists across the country pushing for universities to do a better job of teaching science, M.I.T. has made a striking change.  The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.

#3 Stretching: The Truth
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS   Published: October 31, 2008

WHEN DUANE KNUDSON, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Chico, looks around campus at athletes warming up before practice, he sees one dangerous mistake after another. "They're stretching, touching their toes. . . . " He sighs. "It's discouraging."

If you're like most of us, you were taught the importance of warm-up exercises back in grade school, and you've likely continued with pretty much the same routine ever since. Science, however, has moved on. Researchers now believe that some of the more entrenched elements of many athletes' warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually bad for you. The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds - known as static stretching - primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them. In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching one leg's muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements.

#4 Rays' Maddon Puts Pieces Together
By ALAN SCHWARZ  Published: August 9, 2008

The Rays, filled with young talent like third baseman Evan Longoria, center fielder B. J. Upton and a rotation manned by Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza, are led by a 54-year-old manager who players insist is younger than they are. Sure, Maddon has adorned the clubhouse with inspirational quotes from the likes of Albert Camus. ("I don't think he ever played here," Upton said.) But players know they have the only manager in the big leagues with a cooler music collection than theirs, and he infuses them with the same free spirit he has carried through three decades in professional baseball.

"He's very calm, quiet and trusting," said Shields, 10-7 with a 3.65 earned run average. "He allows us to police ourselves. Sometimes, you have a manager who yells at you every night, but he doesn't do that. He'll sit you down and talk to you and teach you."

A former economics major at Lafayette College and a briefly professional catcher, Maddon revels in looking at baseball through his own eyes. (And through his now-trademark, black-rimmed glasses that are less Harry Caray than Elvis Costello, he eagerly notes.) The man who never travels without a book does not always go by baseball's. 

True to his Angels roots, Maddon encourages his players to take extra bases aggressively - even at the risk of making the first or third out at third, a longtime baseball no-no. "It's a positive risk," Maddon said. "I don't want my players afraid of making mistakes."

#5 A City Team's Struggle Shows Disparity in Girls' Sports
By KATIE THOMAS Published: June 13, 2009

With this team, it's always something. In the suburbs, girls? participation in sports is so commonplace that in many communities, the conversation has shifted from concerns over equal access to worries that some girls are playing too much. But the revolution in girls? sports has largely bypassed the nation's cities, where public school districts short on money often view sports as a luxury rather than an entitlement.

Coaches and organizers of youth sports in cities say that while many immigrant and lower-income parents see the benefit of sports for sons, they often lean on daughters to fill needs in their own hectic lives, like tending to siblings or cleaning the house.

#6 Federer as Religious Experience
Top of Form
By DAVID FOSTER WALLACE Published: August 20, 2006 Skip to next paragraphCorrection Appended

Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men's tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you're O.K......

Interestingly, what is less obscured in TV coverage is Federer's intelligence, since this intelligence often manifests as angle. Federer is able to see, or create, gaps and angles for winners that no one else can envision, and television's perspective is perfect for viewing and reviewing these Federer Moments. What's harder to appreciate on TV is that these spectacular-looking angles and winners are not coming from nowhere - they're often set up several shots ahead, and depend as much on Federer's manipulation of opponents' positions as they do on the pace or placement of the coup de grâce. And understanding how and why Federer is able to move other world-class athletes around this way requires, in turn, a better technical understanding of the modern power-baseline game than TV - again - is set up to provide.

#7 The Uneven Playing Field
By MICHAEL SOKOLOVE  Published: May 11, 2008  Correction Appended

BY THE TIME JANELLE PIERSON SPRINTED ONTO THE FIELD for the start of the Florida high-school soccer playoffs in January, she had competed in hundreds of games since joining her first team at 5. She played soccer year-round - often for two teams at a time when the seasons of her school and club teams overlapped. Like many American children deeply involved in sports, Janelle, a high-school senior, had traveled like a professional athlete since her early teens, routinely flying to out-of-state tournaments. She had given up other sports long ago, quitting basketball and tennis by age 10. There was no time for any of that, and as she put it: "Even if you wanted to keep playing other sports, people would question you. They'd be, like, 'Why do you want to do that?'

#8 The No-Stats All-Star
By MICHAEL LEWIS  Published: February 13, 2009 

He had more or less admitted to me that this part of his job left him cold. 'It's the same thing every day,' he said, as he struggled to explain how a man on the receiving end of the raging love of 18,557 people in a darkened arena could feel nothing. "If you had filet mignon every single night, you'd stop tasting it."

To him the only pleasure in these sounds - the name of his beloved alma mater, the roar of the crowd - was that they marked the end of the worst part of his game day: the 11 minutes between the end of warm-ups and the introductions. Eleven minutes of horsing around and making small talk with players on the other team. All those players making exaggerated gestures of affection toward one another before the game, who don't actually know one another, or even want to. "I hate being out on the floor wasting that time," he said. "I used to try to talk to people, but then I figured out no one actually liked me very much." Instead of engaging in the pretense that these other professional basketball players actually know and like him, he slips away into the locker room.

Shane Battier! And up Shane Battier popped, to the howl of the largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game at the Toyota Center in Houston, and jumped playfully into Yao Ming (the center "out of China"). Now, finally, came the best part of his day, when he would be, oddly, most scrutinized and least understood.

#9  The Behavioral Revolution
By DAVID BROOKS Published: October 27, 2008

Roughly speaking, there are four steps to every decision. First, you perceive a situation. Then you think of possible courses of action. Then you calculate which course is in your best interest. Then you take the action.

Skip to next paragraphOver the past few centuries, public policy analysts have assumed that step three is the most important. Economic models and entire social science disciplines are premised on the assumption that people are mostly engaged in rationally calculating and maximizing their self-interest.

# 10 Cocksure
by Malcolm Gladwell July 27, 2009

Banks, battles, and the psychology of overconfidence. As we grow older and more experienced, we overrate the accuracy of our judgments.

In 1996, an investor named Henry de Kwiatkowski sued Bear Stearns for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. De Kwiatkowski had made-and then lost-hundreds of millions of dollars by betting on the direction of the dollar, and he blamed his bankers for his reversals. The district court ruled in de Kwiatkowski's favor, ultimately awarding him $164.5 million in damages. But Bear Stearns appealed-successfully-and in William D. Cohan's engrossing account of the fall of Bear Stearns, "House of Cards," the firm's former chairman and C.E.O. Jimmy Cayne tells the story of what happened on the day of the hearing:

#11 What Are the Odds a Handy, Quotable Statistic Is Lying? Better Than Even
By BARRY GEWEN  Published: February 2, 2009

It's hard to resist a book that tells you that most people have more than the average number of feet. Or that researchers have found that Republicans enjoy sex more than Democrats do. Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot delight in bringing such facts to our attention - and then in explaining them away.

Skip to next paragraph THE NUMBERS GAMEThe Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life By Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot 210 pages. Gotham Books.

Because of amputations, birth defects and the like, the average number of feet per person across the human population is slightly fewer than two. As for those randy Republicans, the information that matters is that men vote Republican more than women, and also say that they enjoy sex more than women say that they do.

"The Numbers Game" grew out of a popular BBC radio show called "More or Less"; Mr. Blastland is the show's creator, and Mr. Dilnot its former host. Their book appeared in Britain two years ago under the title "The Tiger That Isn't," and though it has been "extensively revised" for its American edition and, more mysteriously, given a new title, it still retains a British orientation.

#12 What Life Asks of Us
By DAVID BROOKS   Published: January 26, 2009

A few years ago, a faculty committee at Harvard produced a report on the purpose of education. "The aim of a liberal education" the report declared, "is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar, to reveal what is going on beneath and behind appearances, to disorient young people and to help them to find ways to reorient themselves."

#13 Expectations Lose to Reality of Sports Scholarships
By BILL PENNINGTON Published: March 10, 2008 Correction Appended scholarships&st=nyt&adxnnl=1&scp=3&adxnnlx=1251817418-HMFwI61v8PRKYxjQb64yfA

At youth sporting events, the sidelines have become the ritual community meeting place, where families sit in rows of folding chairs aligned like church pews. These congregations are diverse in spirit but unified by one gospel: heaven is your child receiving a college athletic scholarship.

Skip to next paragraph The Scholarship Divide

These articles are exploring the chase for N.C.A.A. scholarships, the scarcity of athletic aid, and the challenges facing coaches and scholarship athletes.

Joanie Milhous, the field hockey coach at Villanova, said she recruited "good, ethical parents as much as good, talented kids." Parents sacrifice weekends and vacations to tournaments and specialty camps, spending thousands each year in this quest for the holy grail. But the expectations of parents and athletes can differ sharply from the financial and cultural realities of college athletics, according to an analysis by The New York Times of previously undisclosed data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and interviews with dozens of college officials.


So there are my top 13. I hope you found time to read the comments from hundreds of others thinking about these topics. Some gems in their responses too. Share yours below or email me at Citius, Altius, Fortius....


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

On September 02, 2009 John Kessel wrote

And the NYT today added another one to the list - this time about serving in tennis, that has direct applicability to volleyball serving.... Toss the Ball. Hit the Ball. Oops! Oops!By KAREN CROUSE Published: September 1, 2009 "The serve in tennis is the only shot completely in the player’s control, the one part of the script in every match in which the same person is director, writer and star. That has been little comfort to some of the top players in women’s tennis, whose serving has bombed on the biggest stages this summer."

On February 02, 2010 John Kessel wrote

Another classic from the NYT - this time called & quot;A Survey of Youth Sports Finds Winning Isn’t the Only Thing" By MARK HYMAN Published: January 30, 2010

We very much welcome additional new comments, to be contributed below: