Paragraph of the day

[A]s the psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons show in their new book “The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us,” the effects of experience are highly specific to the experiences themselves. If you train people to do one thing (recognize shapes, solve math puzzles, find hidden words), they get better at doing that thing, but almost nothing else. Music doesn’t make you better at math, conjugating Latin doesn’t make you more logical, brain-training games don’t make you smarter. Accomplished people don’t bulk up their brains with intellectual calisthenics; they immerse themselves in their fields. Novelists read lots of novels, scientists read lots of science.

That’s from Steven Pinker, who doesn’t agree that the internet is making us dumber. How does this apply to football, and specifically football coaching?

  • coach mike

    Football coaches do almost nothing but train for specific experience. Invariable, the play that beats you is the one where the match-up is killing you or the sequence of events of the play is outside the norm you trained for or taking advantage of a player overplaying what he thinks experience has revealed to him will happen.

  • EasyRider

    Specifically relating to football coaching I think this would relate to the coaches that are convinced they are the modern day equivalent of the battlefield general, moving his soldiers around and trying to outflank his opponents (Think Mike Leach and other history buffs), but I do not think that Pinker’s paradigm is always true. Logic is the ability to apply knowledge acquired from one situation and apply it to another that may not appear to be similar on the surface. Most times in terms of strategy the more logical coach will be more successful. Now this is not all that makes a good coach (Again, think Leach). Interpersonal skills can often be much more of a factor in being an effective coach.

  • Old South

    Before addressing football, it’s important to limit the over-narrow thesis advanced above. Yes, it’s true, “brain-training” exercises, playing Mozart to your baby, and similar activities are largely futile. But the reason those activities don’t have beneficiary ancillary effects on verbal or spatial reasoning is NOT because it’s not the same activity. It’s because the second activity is too divorced from the former to function as adequate training. In other words, it’s not simply because they’re “different.” It’s because they’re “too different.” Mental “cross-training” exists, and it can be beneficial.

    If you increase your reading comprehension by studying literature, you will have better reading comprehension when you study history. If you improve your logical reasoning in philosophy, you will be reason through law better. It’s not just “mental” exercises, either. If you participate in rigorous strength-training for football, it will benefit your basketball play. If you sharply develop your ability to kill fake targets in SWAT training, it will aid your ability to kill real ones in real SWAT scenarios. If you develop strong social relationships with your family and friends, it will help you in romantic relationships. These are all activities give ancillary benefits to other activities. They work because the skills needed in the first are fundamental to succeeding in the second.

    The psychologists are absolutely correct in their interpretation of their data. But their explanation is a little off. It’s too narrow to say that the benefits of experiences are specifically limited to the experience that made them. The benefits are limited to those experiences AND other situations in which those skills are fundamental to success.

  • SHSQBCoach

    As far as the “X’s and O’s” of the game I’d say the theory would apply. Outside of experiencing football in on form or another (playing, watching, etc.) there isn’t much you can do to understand the whys of football. And that experience gained in the X’s and O’s of football is very football specific.
    There is obviously more to being a good football coach and experiences outside the world of football can certainly increase a coaches skill. Since I can’t say it better than Old South did in his second paragraph… I’ll just go with “ditto”

  • Jason Bates

    The internet has provided football coaches, and the world in general, with an invaluable resource for sharing ideas. The internet and, consequently, the application of the scientific method (hypothesis, tests, revision, conclusion) to the game of football has increased the game’s quality and understanding at all levels. Coaches, as general tenet of their trade, are very open about their knowledge of the game. The internet has enabled that openness to reach a much larger audience than 20 years ago. Everyone involved in football from coaches to players and fans are better off for it.

  • Chris-I recommend Pinker’s ‘How the Mind Works.’ Really interesting and I’d bet you’d like it. ‘Blank Slate’ is also fascinating, with lots of political implications.

  • I agree with Old South. I am a CPA, and similar to the professions Pinker mentions, you can absolutely immerse yourself in accounting. But in addition to a depth of knowledge (tax laws, accounting regs, etc.), I think it’s important to also add a breadth of knowledge (psychology, economics, statistics, etc.) that can be applied to your field.

    It’s not football coaching, but look at all the different fields of study that Phil Jackson has immersed himself in and I think anyone would agree he has had success applying them in basketball. Yes, you can waste your time solving sudoku puzzles. But I think studying other areas can make you better and smarter if the knowledge is properly applied.

  • “We don’t want someone who is going to be contemplating Shakespeare out there instead of rushing the QB.” **Carmen Policy

    Off topic: Here’s your stuff back, Ron Dayne.

  • kevin

    I think the net has made football coaching harder. It has given mediocre coaches the tools quickly that experienced coaches had to earn over the long term. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a LOT to the experience component including knowing how to get your players in the right positions at the right time. But the nuances of schemes and technique are out there right NOW for the coach that can soak it up.

  • years ago (really not that long ago), if you didn’t know about a particular scheme, you would contact that coach, get as much game film as you could, and/or get clinic’ed on it. Problem is…….years ago, game film wasn’t as prevalent. So if you couldn’t learn it in a 45 min clinic (rarely can), and the coach running said system didn’t get back with you or was a horrible communicator, you’re just S.O.L.

    With the maturation of the Internet, you now can instantly connect with thousands of coaches from all over the world and share.

    The problems for coaches relating to the Internet is 1) it is a mile wide and an inch deep (shallow) and 2) echo-chamber vacuums.

    1) if you do not have the deep researching skill sets established, the Internet won’t help. You still have to know how to dig and measure the data you do find. If ALL information is low-hanging-fruit, then you’ll never be required to use your hunting skills (and be dependent on the table of low-hanging fruit to be set for you to be competent).

    2) With the advantages of instant data and networking, comes the trap of self-delusion. If your sole coaching network is through virtual means, then your self-perception (as a coach) is fed off the interactions of your Internet personality (and with no reproach). Couple this with the profiteering of the ‘net, where ‘coaches’ use the free exchange of ideas for profiteering (selling wares), then you can create a dangerous breeding ground for a never ending sociopathic cycle.

  • Owen

    Pinker’s article is good (as is most of his work), but a compelling supplement to it is Nicholas Carr’s new book, “The Shallows.” Check it out.

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