Sports

This is in­tended to be a pretty broad dis­cus­sion of sports. I have some thoughts, but feel free to start your own threads.


tl;dr—My im­pres­sion is that peo­ple here aren’t very in­ter­ested in sports. My im­pres­sion1 is that most peo­ple have some­thing to gain by both com­pet­i­tive and recre­ational sports. With com­pet­i­tive sports you have to be care­ful not to overdo it. With recre­ational sports, the cir­cum­stances have to be right for it to be en­joy­able. I also think that sports get a bad rep for be­ing sim­ple and dull. In ac­tu­al­ity, there’s a lot of com­plex­ity.

1 - Why does this have to sound bad?! I have two state­ments I want to make. And for each of them, I want to qual­ify it by say­ing that it as an im­pres­sion that I have. What is a bet­ter way to say this?

Me

I love sports. Par­tic­u­larly bas­ket­ball. I was ex­tremely ex­tremely ded­i­cated to it back in mid­dle/​high school. Ac­tu­ally, it was pretty much all I cared about (not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion). This may or not be crazy… but I wanted to be the best player who’s ever lived. That was what I gen­uinely as­pired and was work­ing to­wards (~7th-11th grade).

My think­ing: the pros prac­tice, what, 5-6 hours a day? I don’t care about any­thing other than bas­ket­ball. I’m will­ing to prac­tice 14 hours a day! I just need time to eat and sleep, but other than that, I value bas­ket­ball above all else (friends, school...). Plus, I will work so much smarter than they do! The norm is to mind­lessly do push ups and eat McDon­alds. I will read the sci­en­tific liter­a­ture and figure out what the most effec­tive ways to im­prove are. I’m short and not too ath­letic, so I knew I was start­ing at a dis­ad­van­tage, but I saw a mis­match be­tween what the norm is and what my rate of im­prove­ment could be. I thought I could do it.

In some ways I suc­ceeded, but ul­ti­mately I didn’t come close to my goal of great­ness. In short, I spent too much time on high level ac­tions such as re­search­ing train­ing meth­ods and not enough time on ob­ject level work; and with school and home­work, I sim­ply didn’t have enough time to put in the 14 hour days I en­vi­sioned. I was a solid high school player, but was no where near good enough to play col­lege ball.

Take Aways

In­tense work. I’ve gone through some pretty in­tense phys­i­cal ex­er­cise. Ex. run­ning suicides un­til you col­lapse. And then get­ting up to do more un­til you col­lapse again. It takes a lot of willpower to do that. I think willpower is like a mus­cle, and you have to train your­self to be able to work at such in­ten­si­ties. I haven’t ex­pe­rienced any­thing in­tel­lec­tual that has re­quired such in­ten­sity. Know­ing that I am ca­pa­ble of work­ing at high in­ten­si­ties has given me con­fi­dence that “I could do any­thing”.

Am­bi­tion. The cul­ture in ath­letic cir­cles is of­ten one where, “I’m not con­tent be­ing where I am”. There’s some­one above you, and you want to beat them out. I guess that sort of ex­ists in aca­demic and ca­reer cir­cles as well, but I don’t think it’s the same (in the av­er­age case; there’s cer­tainly ex­cep­tions). What ex­plains this? Maybe there’s some­thing very visceral about lin­ing up across from some­one, get­ting phys­i­cally and un­am­bigu­ously beaten, and let­ting your team­mates and your­self down.

Con­fi­dence. Often times, con­fi­dence is some­thing you learn be­cause you have to. Often times, if you’re not con­fi­dent, you won’t perform, so you need to learn to be con­fi­dent. But it’s not just that; there’s some­thing else about the cul­ture that pro­motes con­fi­dence (per­haps cock­i­ness). Think: “I don’t care who the op­po­nent is, no one can stop me!”.

Group Bonds. When you spend so much time with a group of peo­ple, go through ex­haust­ing prac­tices to­gether, and work as a team to ex­pe­rience wins and losses, you de­velop a cer­tain bond that is en­joy­able. It re­minds me a bit of putting in long hours on a pro­ject and even­tu­ally meet­ing the dead­line, but it isn’t the same.

Other: There’s cer­tainly other things I’m for­get­ting.

All of that said, there are down­sides that cor­re­spond with all of these benefits. My over­ar­ch­ing opinion is “all things in mod­er­a­tion”. Am­bi­tion can be poi­son. So can the ha­bit­ual pro­duc­tivity that of­ten comes with am­bi­tion. Some­times the at­mo­sphere can back­fire and make you less con­fi­dent. And some­times team­mates can bully and be cruel. I’ve ex­pe­rienced the good and bad ex­tremes along all of these axes.

Hon­estly, I’m not quite sure when it’s worth it and when it isn’t. I think it of­ten de­pends on the per­son and the situ­a­tion, but I think that in mod­er­a­tion, most peo­ple have a de­cent amount to gain (in ag­gre­gate) by ex­pe­rienc­ing these things.

Recreational

So far I’ve re­ally only talked about com­pet­i­tive sports. Now I want to talk about recre­ational sports. With com­pet­i­tive sports, as I men­tion above, I think there’s a some­what fine line be­tween un­der­do­ing it and over­do­ing it. But I think that line is a lot wider for recre­ational sports. I think it’s wide enough such that recre­ational sports are very of­ten a good choice.

One huge benefit of recre­ational sports is that it’s a fun way to get ex­er­cise. You do/​should ex­er­cise any­way; why not make a game out of it?

Part of me feels like sports are just in­her­ently fun! I know that call­ing them in­her­ently fun is too strong a state­ment, but I think that un­der the right cir­cum­stances, they of­ten are fun (I think the same point can be ap­plied to most other things as well).

In prac­tice, what goes wrong?

  • You aren’t in shape. You’re play­ing a pick up bas­ket­ball game where ev­ery­one else is run­ning up and down the court and you’re too winded to breathe. That’s no fun.

  • Phys­i­cal bumps and bruises. You’re play­ing foot­ball and get knocked around, or per­haps in­jured.

  • Lack of in­volve­ment.

    • You’re play­ing base­ball. You only get to hit 1/​18th of the time. And you are play­ing right field and no one ever hits it to you (for these rea­sons, I don’t like base­ball).

    • You’re play­ing soc­cer with peo­ple who don’t know how to space the field and move the ball, and you hap­pen to get ex­cluded.

    • You’re play­ing bas­ket­ball where each team has a ball hog who brings up the ball and shoots it ev­ery pos­ses­sion.

  • Difficulty-skill mis­match. You’re play­ing with peo­ple who are way too good for you, so it isn’t fun. Alter­na­tively, maybe you’re way bet­ter than the peo­ple you’re play­ing with and aren’t be­ing challenged.

  • Other. Again, I’m sure there are things I’m not think­ing of.

For the most part, I feel like the things that go wrong are cor­rectable, and once cor­rected, I pre­dict that the sport will be­come en­joy­able (some things are in­her­ent, like the bumps and bruises in tackle foot­ball; but there’s always two-hand touch!).
I even see a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity here! Cur­rently, these are all le­gi­t­i­mate prob­lems. I think that if these were cor­rected, a lot of util­ity/​value would be gen­er­ated. What if you could sign up and be pro­vided with recre­ational games, with enough time for you to rest so you’re not ex­hausted, where your team­mates and op­po­nents are re­spect­ful and con­sid­er­ate, where you’re in­volved in the game, and where your team­mates and op­po­nents are roughly at your skill level.

Complexity

I sense that sports get a bit of an un­fair rep for be­ing sim­ple and dull games. Maybe some are, but I think that most aren’t.

Per­haps it’s be­cause of the way most peo­ple ex­pe­rience the game. Take bas­ket­ball as an ex­am­ple. A lot of peo­ple just like to watch to see whether the ball goes in the hoop or not and cheer. Ie. they ex­pe­rience the game in a very bi­nary way. Ob­serv­ing this, it may be tempt­ing to think, “Ugh, what a stupid game.” But what hap­pens when you steel­man?

I hap­pen to know a lot about bas­ket­ball, so I ex­pe­rience the game very differ­ently. Here’s an ex­am­ple:

Iguo­dala has the ball and is be­ing guarded by LeBron. LeBron is play­ing close and is in a stag­gered stance. He’s vuln­er­a­ble and Iguo­dala should at­tack his lead foot. Peo­ple (even NBA play­ers) don’t look at this enough! Ac­tu­ally no, he shouldn’t at­tack: the weak side help defense looks like it’s in po­si­tion, and LeBron is great at re­cov­ery. Plus, you have to think about the op­por­tu­nity cost. Curry has Del­lave­dova and could definitely take him. Mean­ing, if Delly plays off, Curry can take a shot, but if Delly plays him more tightly, Curry could pen­e­trate and ei­ther score or set some­one else up, de­pend­ing on how the help defense re­acts. That ap­proach has a pretty high ex­pected value. But ac­tu­ally, Dray­mond Green looks like he has JR Smith on him (who is much smaller), which prob­a­bly has an even higher ex­pected value than Curry tak­ing Delly. But to get Green the ball they’d have to re­verse it to the weak side, and they’d have to keep the court spaced such that the Cavs won’t have an op­por­tu­nity to switch a big­ger defen­der on to Green. All of this is in con­trast with run­ning a mo­tion offense or some set plays. And you also have to take into ac­count the stamina of the other team. Maybe you want to at­tack LeBron on defense to make him work, get him tired, and make him less effec­tive on offense (I think this is a great ap­proach to take against Curry and the War­riors, be­cause Curry isn’t a good defen­der and is lethal on offense).

Hope­fully you could see that the amount of in­for­ma­tion there is to pro­cess in any given sec­ond is ex­tremely high! If you know what to look for. Per­son­ally, I’ve never played or­ga­nized foot­ball. But af­ter play­ing the video game Mad­den (and do­ing some fur­ther re­search), I’ve learned a good amount about how the game works. Now when I watch foot­ball, I know the in­tri­ca­cies of the game and am watch­ing for them. The den­sity of in­for­ma­tion + the ex­cite­ment, skill and phys­i­cal­ity makes these ports ex­tremely en­joy­able for me to watch. Alter­na­tively, I don’t know too much about golf and don’t en­joy watch­ing it. All I see when I watch golf is, “The ball was hit closer to the hole… the ball was hit closer to the hole… the ball was it in the hole. This was a par 3, so that must have been an av­er­age perfor­mance.”