Friday, June 30, 2006

Those Were The Days

I was feeling nostalgic so I thought I would post some random musings from my life in youth sports.

•Have you ever seen a basketball team use the “three-man weave” in a game situation? Me neither, but apparently every junior high team is still required to fumble their way through it.

•All little league catchers have one thing in common. It’s called “being the fattest kid on the team”.

•Speaking of catchers, I was always jealous of all of their equipment. I mean, how cool could I feel wearing polyester pants, a way too-big t-shirt advertising some Havelock business, and a mesh hat that is now only cool in an ironic way?

•Obviously, the major problem with U.S. soccer is that our best athletes go to football, basketball and baseball (maybe not quite in that order) leaving soccer with what’s left. And me, well I lettered in tennis.

•To this day whenever I get really sweaty from working out or enjoying some athletic endeavor, I always crave a Shasta Cola. Take that Pavlov’s dogs.

•I remember when my dad wouldn’t let me wear black basketball shoes because they would make me look slow. Um, dad, you know what was making me look slow…your genes.

•I once hit a triple in a Babe Ruth game. When I got to third base Coach Svehla said and I quote, “I didn’t know you could hit one that far”. It’s coaching like that led me directly to sport psychology.

•I was never a star player, but I do have quite a few trophies. I guess I was the Lincoln version of Steve Kerr or Michael Cooper.

•Thankfully none of my trophies says “Most Improved”. The criteria for “Most Improved” was generally, “stopped wearing his glove on his head in the outfield”.

•The best T-ball coaching strategy was definitely the alphabetized batting order.

•In 6th grade I played midget football at 63 pounds (I’m not kidding). My nickname was “Holy shit, I can’t believe he got up after that”.

•I was in the 101 lbs. weight class during wrestling in 8th grade gym class. My only two opponents were a kid with really bad asthma and a mop.

•One of my midget football teammates was Matt Beetem. My favorite moment of the season was all of the coaches yelling, “Beetem Off, Beetem Off” in order to avoid being penalized for having 12 men on the field.

Well that was fun. I hope you enjoyed them. I might have to do that again sometime.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On Len Bias

Ok, so I’m a week late in getting around to writing about this, but I still think it is worth the space. Last Monday was the 20th anniversary of the death of Len Bias. On June 19, 1986, two nights after the Boston Celtics selected him as a first-round draft pick, he died of a cocaine overdose. He was 22.

It is hard for me to imagine that this occurred that long ago. My life was completely different then, but I remember the day of his death as though it happened yesterday. I know that I was only nine years old at the time, but I feel I had a pretty good understanding of the situation. I certainly knew of the talent Bias possessed. I would argue that only Travis Usher and Dick Vitale watched more ACC basketball games during the 1980s than I did. As I played out my versions of the games in the basement (complete with uniform changes to match who was playing on ESPN), Len Bias was one of my alter-egos. As I think back to his skills and how they matched up with others of that era, I think about Walter Berry, Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, Ralph Sampson, and of course Michael Jordan. When I watch games today, I think about Len Bias when I watch LeBron James. They have that “boy in a man’s body” physique and the same aura on the court. In both cases you understand you are watching greatness.

I don’t know that I knew a lot about cocaine or any other drugs at the time. I was aware of their existence, but certainly as a nine year old living in Nebraska my exposure was limited to episodes of Miami Vice. What I did know, however, after learning of his death was that I would never touch cocaine. I learned that it would kill you even the first time you tried it. I learned that no celebration was worth that cost. These feelings were only strengthened when Don Rogers, a defensive back for the Cleveland Browns, also died of a cocaine overdose just eight days later. For me and for many of my generation, this was the legacy of Len Bias.

It has recently come to my attention that the legacy of Len Bias stretches much further than this. In response to his death, Congress enacted Len Bias-inspired legislation attacking the drug problem. The result of this was the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. This act contained new mandatory minimum sentences, a death penalty provision for drug "king pins" and no parole for even minor, first-time possession offenses. In addition, although Bias had died from an overdose on powder cocaine, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act also established tougher sentences for crack cocaine offenses. Five grams of crack carried a minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while at least 500 grams of powder cocaine was required for the same sentence.

In other words, one of the major legacies of the death of Len Bias is an explosion in the federal prison population. From 1954 to 1976, it fluctuated between 20,000 and 24,000. By 1986 it had grown to 36,000. Today it exceeds 190,000 prisoners, up 527 percent in 20 years. More than half this population is made up of drug offenders, most of whom are serving sentences created in the weeks after Len Bias died. There is also a racist element to all of this. Although about two-thirds of crack users are white or Hispanic, a recent commission found, more than 80 percent of those convicted in federal courts of crack possession or trafficking in the mid-1990s were black.

Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune makes an excellent point about all of this in his recent column. He states:

Now there's a thought: If you don't think crack sentencing is too severe for first-time offenders, how about increasing the penalties for powder cocaine? Or would that sweep up too many members of the better-off classes to suit our lawmakers?

Just imagine, for a moment, the alarm that would be generated by parades of, say, handcuffed pro athletes, fashion models, fraternity boys and other charter members of the well-to-do silver coke spoon set, all doing their perp walks in front of television cameras? If that does not spur a renewed public demand for humane alternatives to long prison sentences, nothing will.

A second way to look at the legacy of Len Bias is to look at the Boston Celtics. Many Celtic fans argue that the death of Bias is at least partially responsible for the downfall of this once proud organization. They might have a point. In 1986 the Celtics won the Eastern Conference. In 1987 they would have returned with Bird, McHale and Bias to go along with Ainge, Johnson and Parish. How good would this team have been and for how long? Would the Bad Boys from Detroit ever have gotten the chance to shine? Would Michael ever have gotten his titles in the 90s? You have to wonder, especially given that the Celtics also suffered the death of Reggie Lewis in 1993.

Len Bias would be 42 years old now. That is almost as hard for me to fathom as my own impending 30th birthday. It has been nice to look back and think about the greatness of Bias and his impact on the world over the last week. I’m hard pressed to think of the death of anyone, let alone that of an athlete, that has had such a profound impact on our society. His death probably saved the lives of thousands who steered clear of illicit drugs, while ruining the lives of countless others serving long and unjust sentences. And just think, all this and we still never got to truly see one of the great ones, become great.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Busy, Busy

I've been busy lately caring for my thrashed big toenail, trying to finish my summer class (which ends next week) and preparing to teach (which begins next week). As a result, I haven't done much in the way of original thinking.

I did, however, run across sport psychology again making headlines. Monday’s Washington Post had an article about applying the insights of psychology and psychiatry to sports.

Some of the highlights of the piece:

Researchers have suspected that athletes under stress fail to perform their best because they are focused on the wrong things. For instance, a quarterback under stress may focus on where his receiver is supposed to be rather than what coverage he is facing, or the U.S. World Cup captain may try to dribble out of trouble rather than clearing the ball out of danger. From the article:

Using an infrared camera that picked up eye movements, Hunfalvay found that a college tennis player who was phenomenal at returning serves in practice but dreadful in competition was focused -- in the heat of competition -- on the back fence, the trees and the net post. By learning to look at particular aspects of the opposing player's stance and racquet motion as he went through his usual footwork routine, Hunfalvay said, the player quickly turned into a star in competition.

Also from the article:

In one experiment, Smith and other researchers hooked 16 golfers up to devices that measured heart rate, levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol and grip force, and then simulated a high-pressure competitive environment. As measured stress levels rose, many of the golfers faltered.


Hap Davis, a sport psychologist who has worked with the Canadian national swim team, found that when athletes who didn't make that country's Olympic team were shown videos of their losing races, the grief they felt was so acute that their brain images resembled those of people suffering from major depression.

"Following a major setback, this may be why many people will come back to the top but never really become champions again," Davis said in an interview.

I wonder if anyone has mentioned this idea to Brad Lidge. I’m positive he is still wallowing over the Pujols shot from last year.

Davis tested a psychological technique known as cognitive behavior therapy. Rather than wallow in their emotional response to the loss, the swimmers were encouraged to watch the videos again, this time with a view to identifying mistakes and asking how they would do particular things differently.

Davis said most athletes understandably want to remember the performances that went well, not the ones that went badly. But after the experiment, which led to some of the swimmers setting Canadian records, the psychologist said it was clear that defeat could be very instructive.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Insomnia 1 - Jeffie 0

Couldn't sleep might as well kill some time.

•One of my school notebooks has a list of frequently misspelled words. One of the words on the list is “misspell”. I’m not sure if that’s real irony or just the Alanis Morrisette “rain on your wedding your day” type.

•Have you seen Britney Spears lately? It’s funny that a girl who once famously announced her virginity has actually become a better poster child for abstinence long after she lost hers. I mean, I know right now I’d be telling my kids, “You see that? That’s what happens when you have sex.”

•I’ve been taking Benadryl nightly to try and get to sleep (it’s not working) and I’ve noticed that my allergy symptoms are actually getting worse. Apparently my histamines are an unruly bunch.

•If the auto industry were to develop a car with a sticker price of $12,000, that got 75 mpg and looked good to boot, I know several people who wouldn’t buy it for fear that it wouldn’t be compatible with their iPod.

Breakfast on Pluto is definitely the best movie about an orphaned boy who was fathered by a priest, and grows up to be a transvestite in 1970s London, that I’ve seen this week.

•Have you seen the new Kool-Aid commercials? They’ve put pants on the Kool-Aid Man. I guess a naked pitcher running around yelling “Oh Yeah” was just too much for the FCC.

•I lived by myself for most of the last five years. My biggest fear during that time was choking to death on a piece of food. Dying alone is one thing. Dying while making the international sign for choking and having no one there to see it is another.

•Song currently making my head bob – Ghostwriter by RJD2.

Random and Useless Stat of the Week:

•In the battle of famous NFL kicking families Tony Zendejas needs no help from brothers Luis and Max and outscores the Gramaticas 874-763 all by himself. The brothers Gramatica (Bill and Martin), however, have put up a better career field goal percentage 76.7%-72.2%.


Sport psychology is all the rage in the media these days. Okay, so that might be a slight exaggeration, but it is making headway.

First there was on article on Cal St. Fullerton and the fact that they brought their sport psychologist Ken Ravizza with them to Omaha for the College World Series. Ravizza is very well known in the field and actually co-authored an article with Tom Osborne on pre-play routines in football. Anyway, the point of the article is that Fullerton would likely need his help given that were recovering from a 13-inning loss to North Carolina and would need four straight wins to reach the championship series.

One of Ravizza’s gimmicks is to place a miniature toilet in the dugout that the players can use to “flush” away bad plays and negative thoughts. While this sort of thing seems hokey, players really appear to benefit from it. I’ve had athletes turn their back to bad plays to signify “putting it behind them”, and others suggest picking up grass or dirt to “throw away” a mistake. All of these symbols seem to trigger the brain move beyond past efforts and start fresh with a positive outlook.

ESPN also talked about Ravizza and his toilet in their coverage of the Fullerton game. I happened to catch that while eating lunch with Lauren’s family. Lauren’s jaw dropped when she heard the announcer say “sport psychologist”. Apparently for the last year or so, she thought I was making this stuff up.

Something else I liked from the Ravizza article is this:

"These aren't just sports skills, they're life skills," Ravizza said. "It's about dealing with rejection and dealing with frustration and bouncing back, and that's why I love doing what I do.

"I see some of these guys 15 years from now and they come up to me and they say, 'Hey, Ken, I'm using this stuff more now than I did as a player.' It's beautiful. That's really what sports are about, and we forget it at times."

The second story discusses a US sport psychologist’s work with the Spain World Cup team. Spain is known in the soccer community as perennial underachievers. They always seem to have one of the most talented teams, but have had little success in recent years. They have hired Leonard Zaichkowsky, a Boston University professor to work with their team.

Zaichkowsky has worked to provide the team with positive reinforcement, has led trust-building exercises, has created highlight reels for each player, and also meets with players individually and in groups. These steps seem to be paying off as Spain has won 24 straight games and will advance to the knock-out round of this World Cup.

My favorite part of this article is that Zaichkowsky is asked about the Ukraine coach, former Soviet soccer star Oleg Blokhin, who had enforced a celibacy rule in his training camp. Zaichkowsky wasn't impressed.

“There's no good science on that stuff,” he says. “Aragones (Spain’s coach) wants things to be as normal as possible. After Wednesday's game, he said, `OK boys, you're free until Friday night.”

I vigorously applaud Zaichkowsky’s pro-orgy stance. My only question is why would there be “good science” on pre-competition fornication? On second thought maybe it's not too late to change my dissertation topic.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I'll Be Brief

First two quick thoughts I just have to get off my chest:

•The general consensus is that baby Shiloh born to Anglina Jolie and Brad Pitt will be the most beautiful creature to ever walk the earth. I disagree. It’s called regression to the mean.

•Who are the people that are watching televised poker tournaments so often as to justify its presence on no fewer than six channels at any given time? I mean I’ll check it out for a minute or two, but I’m really just hoping to catch one of the announcers say "nut flush".

Also I recently ran across How to Cheat Good.

It is one professor's tongue-in-cheek tips for helping his students to cheat. It is a bit lengthy but quite funny because it is true. I'm thinking about incorporating it into the discussion of plagiarism in my class.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

"Swinging at Aspirins"

Those were the words of Joe "Ducky" Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals as he struggled through a slump. In contrast, when Mickey Mantle, was asked about his uncanny ability to hit home runs, he replied: “I never really could explain it. I just saw the ball as big as a grapefruit.” All of us involved in sport have probably experienced similar circumstances. Seeming to have an endless amount of green while returning a serve down the alley in doubles, getting in a rhythm from beyond the three-point line and noticing the basket looks like a hula hoop, or putting from the fringe and having the giant cup seemingly swallow your ball.

A recent study puts some science behind these perceptions. Researchers found a correlation between batting averages of softball players and how big or small they perceived the ball to be. After games at several softball fields in Charlottesville, Va., psychologist Dennis Proffitt and a group of graduate students asked 47 players to pick from eight different-sized circles, the one that best represented the size of the ball they had been trying to hit.
"Only people who hit .500 or above pointed at the big circle," said Jessica Witt, a cognitive psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Virginia.
The study concluded that the softball players literally see the ball as larger. "It's not in their minds. It's in perception," Witt said. What this small study suggests, according to Proffitt, is that human perception is much more complex than simple vision. It includes vision, or what’s actually recorded on the retina, but the brain then mixes that imagery with all sorts of mental and emotional baggage. For poor hitters, the ball is perceived as tiny and distant because it is “out of reach”—beyond their ability to connect with it, emotionally and actually.

The study did not reveal, however, whether the participants saw the ball as bigger and therefore hit better, or if they were having a good day at the plate and therefore recall perceiving the ball as being bigger. But Witt speculates it's all about being ready to hit well. "The body is in synch and ready to be a good batter," she said. "That affects perception."

A study last year by other researchers found similar perception differences in successful dart throwers. Another study found that destinations are perceived as being farther away when study participants wear heavier backpacks. According to Witt, "perspective and perception play a big role in what we do and how well we do it.”

The results of this study might be related to the reason many athletes visualize their performance beforehand and why sport psychologists encourage this type of behavioral rehearsal. "If you visualize yourself hitting better, maybe you'll see the ball as bigger," Witt said. In further research, she hopes to investigate whether we can trick the perception system into thinking the ball is bigger.

All of these calculations take place instantaneously and outside of one’s awareness. As Proffitt says, “A principal function of perception is to defend people from having to think.” Or as another famous Yankee, Yogi Berra, once quipped: “You can’t think and hit at the same time.” The results of this study are published in the December 2005 issue of Psychological Science. I just wanted to showcase more interesting sport psychology research that highlights that our mind (with its perceptions) is still our most important piece of athletic equipment.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I Don't Even Like Golf

As many of you know, I spent a summer as a sport psychology intern at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida. One of my rotations was at the David Ledbetter Golf Academy. While I was there one of my responsibilities was to give daily sport psychology lectures to the young attendees. The topic of one lecture was clutch performance and some of the materials I was provided included a comparison of the PGA Tour statistics of Fred Funk and Barry Cheesman (I promise you he is a real golfer).

Apparently during the year prior to my internship these two golfers had identical scoring averages. The difference was that Fred Funk had earned a large sum of money and Barry Cheesman did not (I don’t remember the specifics, sorry). The point my lecture focused on was that although the two golfers had the same average score per round, Fred Funk seemingly performed his best when it mattered (i.e. on Sundays) and subsequently brought home the mad cheddar.

Because this point had gone over so well during my lectures and given my predilection for statistical quirks I have frequently worked to examine and update these stats for future use. What I recently found will be the topic of this piece.

Here are the most recent PGA Tour statistics for two golfers:

Golfer A
Events: 13
Rounds: 47
Scoring Avg: 70.1

Golfer B
Events: 14
Rounds: 47
Scoring Avg: 70.06

Alright so far, so good and the two look to have nearly identical statistics. Now given my earlier story you might have guessed that a discrepancy exists between their current earnings. If so – bingo – good guess, that’s why you read such an educated blog. Anyway here are the yearly earnings for these two golfers:

Golfer A - $2,798,212

Golfer B - $941,521

That works out to a difference in income of $1,856,691 or roughly the equivalent of the current salary of Cincinnati Reds outfielder Austin Kearns.

Again a logical guess would be that Golfer A is a more clutch performer and as a result, has probably played more final rounds, likely has a lower average final round score and might have even won a tournament or two. In this case you would be only partially correct.

Both Golfer A and Golfer B played 14 final rounds, so the discrepancy is not due to differences in the number of Sundays spent on the links. In addition, it is important to note that Golfer A has indeed won twice thus far in 2006, while Golfer B has yet to win a tournament. Given this information one would probably assume then, that Golfer A has a lower final round scoring average than Golfer B. Here is where that assumption dies an honorable death.

Final Round Scoring Avg.
Golfer A – 72.0
Golfer B – 69.8

For the record Golfer A is Stuart Appleby and Golfer B is Stewart Cink. As you can see, in this instance (and with only a cursory glance at the stats) we are not able to attribute the discrepancy in earnings to clutch performances when the big money is on the line. From a sport psychology perspective it just seems counterintuitive that a player who earns that much less than Appleby would actually score lower on Sundays. I’m not exactly sure what to attribute the differences to. Maybe Cink is out of the top 10 on Sundays and can perform without that added pressure or perhaps Appleby has had big leads going into Sunday and has then not needed his top performance. Or maybe once again we should turn to the immortal wisdom of Homer Simpson as it was he who uttered the following:

“Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Here We Go Again

Still more of the things you'll read just to kill time at work.

First my horoscope for this week from The Onion.
The stars understand that you're upset at them and everything, but it's really not fair to condemn the whole lot just because one of its members gave you skin cancer.

•I’m getting really used to finding Lauren’s hair in the shower, in the sink and in the bed. However, about once a week (and while fully dressed), I’ll feel a slight tickle and inevitably find a stray one clinging to the crack of my ass…Nope, I’ll never get used to that.

•Have you noticed they sell porn (Ok, Playboy and the like) in airport gift shops? 1. Who’s buying this? 2. Just how long of a flight justifies such a purchase? Christ, I feel dodgy flipping through Maxim thinking somebody’s grandmother might be peering over my shoulder.

•Am I the only one that uses his belly-button depth as a weight management index? Yeah, I thought so.

•Why is it that the little blade/slicer thing on the side of the saran wrap box will cut through anything (including major arteries) except for saran wrap? I always end up bleeding, with a wadded-up mess of cling wrap…and moldy food.

•I just learned that after all of these years I have been confusing stalactites and stalagmites. It’s not my fault, however, as I was taught: “Stalagmites are on the ceiling and "mite" fall down. Stalactites are anchored "titely" to the floor.” Stupid public school education.

•I think grown men who spend money on model airplanes or railroads have about 1/32 of a life.

•Whoa, whoa, whoa…Did you know there was a Catholic Feast of the Circumcision? Well, there is. No thanks, I’m really not that hungry.

•To add to the list of things I don’t understand about women: Driving with your knees firmly planted at 5 and 7 rather than your hands at 10 and 2.

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup Roundup

I’ve survived the first four days of World Cup watching. It has actually been extremely enjoyable and I’ve missed just two early morning games thus far. I’d like to thank Lauren’s brother Taylor for watching the games with me and sharing his knowledge with my unenlightened ass. Here are my observations on what I’ve witnessed so far. Keep in mind I know nothing about the sport besides what I’ve picked up this week.

•They introduced a new ball for World Cup play. As best I can tell the only reason for this was to give the commentators something to talk about for 90 minutes.

•Speaking of announcers, I’ve become quite partial to the international tandem of Adrian Healey and Tommy Smyth. Soccer play-by-play just seems more “authentic” when it is marked by an accent.

•The first thing I noticed while watching was that there is some sort of parallax that causes any shot on goal to look to me like it is headed for the back of net. Is this soccer specific or are my eyes just better trained to overcome this while watching other sports?

•Would it kill ABC/ESPN to provide viewers with a little context about the cities and/or stadiums in which the games are taking place? Call me ethnocentric but everything I know about Germany and its people was learned from watching “Hogan’s Heroes.”

•My first thought upon hearing about the Togo coach and his salary dispute-induced holdout was that “the Drew Rosenhaus effect” is farther-reaching than I had imagined.

•The official U.S. national team supporters are known as “Sam’s Army”. Given our current forays into diplomacy is saddling our enthusiasts with a military moniker, whilst on a world stage really advisable?

•During the U.S. game they kept flashing that we were 0-7 (make that 0-8) in World Cup games played in Europe. I understand that certain teams in sport garner a reputation for playing poorly on the road, but when you take it to the continental level it just seems mean.

•Is somebody really computing the time of possession percentage that is occasionally highlighted during the games? I have no idea how this is calculated but given how frequently the ball changes sides, that guy probably deserves a raise.

•When a player is injured during play they bring out a stretcher to tote him off the field. This wouldn’t be particularly funny except that the stretchers they use appear to have been purchased from the set of M*A*S*H.

•I wonder if there is anyway ESPN2 would consider covering the Ivory Coast vs. Netherlands game in black and white. If not, those contrasting colors of orange are sure to damage our rods and cones.

•And finally, props to ESPN studio analyst Eric Wynalda for his genuine reaction of disdain following the U.S. loss. Seeing him sit stern-faced with arms crossed demonstrated more passion than anyone we had on the field.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Miscellaneous Musings

I haven't done this for a while, but here are more of my random ponderings and observations:

•Some mornings as I’m busy shaving with my five-bladed razor, I contemplate that the toilet paper industry is really falling behind the technology curve. I mean is triple-ply really the best they have?

•The “itchy spot on the roof of my mouth” and “random right eye twitch” seem to be battling it out lately to determine which is my most annoying bodily sensation.

•Have you seen the names of the players on the Polish World Cup roster? They better pray that goals are not as hard to come by as vowels seem to be.

•Whenever I hear a radio station state that they play “only the best of adult alternative” I imagine that somewhere Hootie is busy taking a dump on a gold-plated toilet.

•I do some of my best thinking in the shower. However, at the same time I often can’t remember whether I have washed my hair yet or not.

•There were 15 players in the women’s draw of the French Open whose last name ended in the suffix “ova”. At least one of those was bound to make the finals. As a result, I’ve decided that my first daughter will be named Anna Maria Adamsova…I figure I better at least give her a fighting chance.

•Whenever someone asks me where I see myself in five years, I always say “in a mirror, unless they invent something better by then.”

•The one thing I miss the most about elementary school is the computer game "Oregon Trail". In fact, right now I would rather be attempting to ford a river or dying of dysentery.

•They say that drinking a bunch of water will relieve the symptoms of a hangover. I, for one have a hard time believing that after consuming 15 beers my biggest problem is dehydration.

•Some days I wake up feeling young, fresh and vital. Then I remember that I learned how to type on an actual typewriter and that feeling quickly disappears.

•The Spanish television stations here in Houston often run half-hour long car dealership commercials featuring scantily-clad females late at night. I wonder if saying “So, does the girl come with it?” in Spanish sounds just as cheesy and trite as it does in English.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

My Field of Dreams?

The field of mental health scares me sometimes. I often don’t know where I stand on certain issues and become even more confused when I read too much about the current state of the field and discover things I wish I didn’t know.

For instance, a recent study found:
“Every psychiatric expert involved in writing the standard diagnostic criteria for disorders such as depression and schizophrenia has had financial ties to drug companies that sell medications for those illnesses”

This quote is also telling:
“Psychiatry has not changed fundamentally in this period, but the use of psychotropic medication has increased dramatically and the professionals who prescribe the medication also tend to have little or no connection with those who help people with mental illnesses through psychological or social means.”

I like to think that I’m a part of the group of people that tries to help through psychological and social means. I don’t think we are winning that battle by the way. Is it any wonder that virtually every client I have ever encountered at some point has asked me, "Isn’t there just something I could take?"

Here’s another doozy:
“Among both experts and the general public, schizophrenia, manic depression and unipolar depression are firmly established as medical disorders, while twenty five years ago, there was probably more readiness for some to countenance the idea that those conditions might be understood as personal crises, existential problems, or simply different ways of living.”

It concerns me that this field is in such a hurry to concern itself primarily with the biological underpinnings of all things human nature. I think it is too easy to label any and all misbehavior as a brain disorder. And keep in mind this is coming from someone who’s just completed and upcoming practicum rotations both involve hospitals. I told you it was confusing.

Oh and to make your own motivation-style posters like the one above, go here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's Just A Passing Problem

I apologize to my female fans, as this will be another sports-related entry. I promise to write about puppy dogs and ice cream at a later date.

Today I want to talk college football…specifically recruiting…and explicitly quarterback recruiting at Nebraska. So far the Huskers appear to still be reeling from the last minute decommit of Josh Freeman last January. The 2007 recruiting cycle has kicked off with a series of swings and misses. These factors coupled with the seemingly slow development of the once acclaimed, and now much maligned Harrison Beck, have left Nebraska rummaging.

This weekend the Huskers host junior college target Lyle Moevao of El Camino (Calif.) Community College. Moevao who is 6-foot, 225-pounds could potentially join the Huskers’ quarterback fray for the 2006 season. Wow, I haven’t been this excited about a California JUCO quarterback since…Jordan Adams. I certainly hope Moevao has a strong arm and a stronger spleen.

The major issue facing Nebraska seems to be its lack of history in producing NFL-caliber signal callers. The elite high school quarterbacks are looking for a school that will prepare them for the next level. While the Huskers have a coaching staff that is high on NFL experience, they remain unproven at the development and nurturance of professional QBs. Right now the Big Red is like the prototypical recent graduate who searches for real world experience while lacking the experience necessary to initially garner employment. Except in our case it involves first needing to sign a top talent at quarterback, who can then go on to earn his keep on Sundays, which could then establish Lincoln as a temporary stop on a QB’s path to Canton.

The schools we are competing with for many of these targets have already cemented themselves as fertile grounds for future NFL quarterbacks. Jimmy Clausen, school boy phenom (and irritating twit), who is considered by many to be the top high school QB in the country is committed to Notre Dame. The Irish have produced the likes of Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, Steve Beuerlein and Rick Mirer. In addition, their head coach Charlie Weis has three Super Bowl rings and is credited with the development of future HOF’er Tom Brady.

Another quarterback, and one many felt the Huskers had a legitimate shot at, Ryan Mallett, chose Michigan. Michigan was freshly anointed “Quarterback U” by and for good reason. In recent years, the Wolverines have produced Tom Brady, Todd Collins, Scott Dreisbach, Elvis Grbac, Brian Griese, Drew Henson and John Navarre. That comes out to a three-time Super Bowl champion, two additional Pro Bowlers in Griese and Grbac and three backups in Navarre, Henson and Collins. In addition, all but one Wolverine starter since Grbac in 1989 has started at least one game in the NFL.

Here is where it really gets difficult for Nebraska. The Huskers’ NFL quarterback lineage looks like this: Dennis Claridge, Vince Ferragamo, Dave Humm, Terry Luck, Bruce Mathison, Frank Patrick, Jeff Quinn (who actually never took a snap), and Jerry Tagge. If I left anybody out I’m sure my father the professional Big Red historian will let me know. Anyway, the last time a Nebraska QB even took a snap in the NFL was 1987. The last time a former Husker finished in the Top 10 in the league in any passing category was 1983 and no one is in the all-time Top 50 in any passing category.

If you combine the career NFL efforts of all of the former Nebraska quarterbacks they would look like this:

Games: 222
Completions: 1327
Attempts: 2486
Completion %: 53.4%
Yards: 16,756
Yards/Attempt: 6.74
TDs: 92
Ints: 147
QB Rating: 62.35

Of these numbers Vince Ferragamo accounts for one-third of the games, almost 70% of the yardage and all but 16 of the touchdowns.

These stats compare favorably to the career numbers of one Elvis Grbac who had just a mediocre NFL career by Michigan standards. Grbac’s pro numbers look like this:

Games: 106
Completions: 1446
Attempts: 2445
Completion %: 59.1%
Yards: 16,769
Yards/Attempt: 6.9
TDs: 99
Ints: 81
QB Rating: 79.64

This information clarifies just how difficult a job our coaching staff has at this point. I mean, obviously I get that we ran a non-pro-style offense for the better part of the last quarter century and I understand that we have produced a number of remarkable quarterbacks during that time. However, on the recruiting trail, how can we possibly promise an NFL future, when history and the statistics don’t back that up? My guess is that we don’t and instead focus on providing the opportunity to start a new tradition and to create a lasting legacy at the new “Quarterback U”. And who knows that might work. It’s still early and the 2007 class has yet to even begin their senior campaigns. My only concern is that this is the type of information that schools are using against us, and as far as we know, that does seem to be working.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Could This Be The End?

Things seem to have a day of reckoning flavor right now.

First, I ran across this quote which increased the significance of my next birthday exponentially.
“Technically speaking, if you’ve passed age 30, you’re already dying. That’s when cell death begins to outstrip cell replacement, but there are sufficient reserves in most major organs to keep us going decades longer.”

It's actually from a pretty good article on aging and retirement, which you can view here.

Then I saw this, which points to tomorrow (6/6/06) as the possible date of the apocalypse.

So if the world does indeed end tomorrow we can likely blame it on my decision to actually follow the World Cup which begins on June 9th. According to estimates, I have likely spent upwards of 44,000 hours watching TV during my lifetime. Thus far, I would guess that 10 minutes of that time has been spent watching soccer and most of that was either by accident or due to low batteries in the remote control.

I have no idea what led to this decision. Perhaps it is having a former soccer player as a girlfriend or maybe it was seeing the passion of my roommate during my IMG internship, as he set his alarm to wake him in the middle of the night to catch the U.S. games in 2002. But no matter the reason, so far, I’m going all out. I saved the World Cup preview section from the Houston Chronicle and even glanced at ESPN the Magazine’s coverage as well in order to acclimate myself to all things soccer.

In spite of all that research, however, my favorite soccer finding remains the following:
“Soccer players who head the ball 10 or more times per game have an average IQ of 103. Those who head the ball once or less per game have an average IQ of 112”.

While I've read quite a bit about the neurological damage that soccer and heading can cause, my hunch is that those players who head the ball less were actually more intelligent to begin with.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Dirk's Hot Hand?

From the day I decided to select sport psychology as a proposed career trajectory I have been forced to explain what it is that a sport psychologist does. I like to think that I had a prepackaged, oversimplified explanation ready for mass consumption. The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure people always bought it. So for those still seeking answers to this particular question, I offer the following. One thing the field of sport psychology does is to examine issues and phenomena within the athletic domain from an empirically-based perspective. More on that later.

Tonight I came across SportsCenter and discovered that Dirk Nowitzki had scored 50 points as the Mavs beat the Suns in Game 5 giving them a 3-2 advantage in the Western Conference Finals. That’s right I missed it. I was busy watching the 79th Scripps National Spelling Bee. No, actually I was outside enjoying the nice weather, a cold beer (or six) and good friends (who don't happen to be NBA fans). Anyway, during post game discussions I was inundated with a rash of superlatives describing Nowitzki’s performance. ESPN analysts argued that his teammates had encouraged Dirk to step up in Game 5 and to be more aggressive. Following the game Nowitzki himself said, "When we were down seven in the third quarter, I saw everything slipping away. I tried to make something happen." The pundits were also sure to contrast this performance with his Game 4 effort. In that game, Nowitzki was just 3-of-13 from the field and finished with 11 points as the Mavericks lost by 20.

Nowitzki’s Game 5 line looked like this: 14-26 from the field, 5-6 on three-pointers. 17-18 from the free-throw line and 12 rebounds. Truly a performance worthy of our admiration. And the obvious conclusion that the average NBA fan makes is that it was simply Dirk’s night and all the Mavs had to do was make certain that he got his shots in order to ensure a victory. In other words, Nowitzki had the “hot hand”.

Here’s where sport psychology steps in. In 1985 a group of researchers (Gilovich, Vallone & Tversky) decided to examine the notion of the “hot hand” in professional basketball. For their research they defined the “hot hand” as the belief that during a particular period a player's performance is significantly better than expected on the basis of a player’s overall record. They first spoke to a group of basketball fans and found that 91% of fans agreed that a player has “a better chance of making a shot after having just made his last two or three shots” and 68% said the same for free throws. Overall, 84% of fans believed that “it was important to pass the ball to someone who has just made several (two, three, or four) shots in a row.”

Gilovich et al. (1985) then analyzed a professional basketball team’s shooting over the course of a season in order to see if streaks occur more often than expected by chance. They found that for each individual player, the proportion of shots made was unrelated to how many previous shots in a row he had either hit or missed. Analysis also showed that the number of runs of hits or misses for each player was not significantly different from the expected number of runs calculated from a player’s overall shooting percentage and assuming that all shots were independent of each other.

In other words, the question that Gilovich et al. (1985) sought to answer was whether basketball players produce more streaks of hits or misses than expected by chance given their underlying shooting percentage. Their analysis showed that the answer to this question was "no", for an individual player. The reason why is that each successive shot in basketball is indeed independent from the last. This came to be known as the "hot hand fallacy". The independence between successive shots, however, does not mean that basketball is a game of chance rather than skill, nor should it render the game less exciting to play, watch, or analyze. Their findings merely reiterate that the probability of a made basket is largely independent of the outcome of previous shots, although it clearly depends on other parameters such as the skill of the shooter, distance from the basket, and defensive pressure (although keep in mind Dirk was playing the Suns).

In their conclusion Gilovich et al. (1985) stated the following concerning the "hot hand fallacy":
This situation is analogous to coin tossing where the outcomes of successive tosses are independent but the probability of heads depends on measurable factors such as the initial position of the coin, and its angular and vertical momentum. Neither coin tossing nor basketball are inherently random, once all the relevant parameters are specified. In the absence of this information, however, both processes may be adequately described by a simple binomial model. A major difference between the two processes is that it is harder to think of a credible mechanism that would create a correlation between successive coin tosses, but there are many factors (e.g., confidence, fatigue) that could produce positive dependence in basketball. The availability of plausible explanations may contribute to the erroneous belief that the probability of a hit is greater following a hit than following a miss.

It's research like this surrounding issues such as the "hot hand fallacy" that excites me about sport psychology. I mean it seems like a simple concept, but as a former junior high point guard I know that I was often guilty of feeding the apparent "hot hand". But regardless of this information, great game Dirk and congratulations to champion speller Katharine Close. Oh and Mr. Cuban if you’re by any chance reading this…I’m looking for a job,

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I've Gone Multimedia!

I can't stop watching this video. I love the reaction of his so-called friends. For a greatest hits collection of humorous sports videos click here.

There was no point to this piece. I really just wanted to prove that I was capable of posting videos on here.

Random Stuff

Two movies you've never heard of but should rent this weekend: The Squid and the Whale and Everything is Illuminated

Point to debate at your next dinner party: Best nickname in NBA history for a player of short stature – "Tiny", "Spud", or "Muggsy"