I am Seau

I finally got around to watching the 30-for-30 on Junior Seau last night. As a natural follow up to my posts about concussions and CTE, this was a must. Not to mention the documentary was incredible, and provided great insight to an unbelievable career that met an unfortunate end. 

Junior Seau was the most talented athlete of his family, a hard worker, and freak of nature on the field. He made his presence known in college and moved on to the NFL where he continued to dominate. He imposed his will on NFL offenses for two decades. 

The problem comes off the field. When they get home. This state of mind is a gift for coaches and for teams, but it can be a curse for the individuals, if they don’t know how to properly wield it. It’s paramount that this beast is left on the field. If you bring this home to meet your family, you’ll bring home a void that you will never fill. 

Imagine, if you had the ability to freeze time, but didn’t know it. Once you remove the outlet [football], things really start to go haywire. These guys consume massive amounts of calories and have no problem burning them off in the warrior mindset. But when they retire and make their entrance into the real world, they will have some big adjustments to make. Not only will they need to make some diet changes, but the outlet for this mindset is even more important. Without that, the frame spills into your life. The insatiable, unbreakable beast has no place in your home. Your wife will never be enough. You will never be enough. 

How can I compare myself to such a legend?

Because I know what this feels like. The expectations. The relentless work. The speed. The instincts. I just always assumed that as long as I worked harder than everyone else, I would be successful. So I just constantly pushed myself, for fifteen years. I doubt anyone has logged more time working out in the past two decades than this guy. I know how to push. 

The problem is, though, that I’ve always struggled with relaxation and recovery. I can’t be the best, because I can’t relax. There is always something that I’m working to improve, to learn, to do, so why would I ever just chill? It turns out, that is as important as anything you do. The time that you do nothing. Or for me, just the ability to do nothing. 

I developed an entire personality around my lizard brain. I lived that way for years. The problem is, it makes relationships hard. It makes every thing that makes life worth living, impossible. Life is a slow game, and people that do whatever it is that I did, die early. So I’m trying to learn to settle in. To hang out. To chill. To be content. It’s not easy, because I can pretty easily go down a train of thoughts to convince myself I could be doing something better with my time. Something more productive. But it turns out that life isn’t a race. Or at very least, it isn’t a sprint. 

What you need to know if you’re trying to transition from warrior to settled? 

Know that it’s going to be the hardest thing you ever do. You’re going to be sad and helpless, but it will pass. You were happy before your fame, and you’ll be happy after. Find some way to burn off steam, to tap into that frame of mind that made you special. Do not sit in front of a desk for the next decade. 

Use your gifts. You were made a warrior, so no amount of sitting in front of a screen will change any part of that. Find something you’re passionate about, and pursue it with reckless abandon, the same way you pursued football. 

Your condition is reversible. Your brain is fully capable of the level of happy that you had when you were younger. 

Suicide is not an option.  What’s next may be worse than what you’re going through now. And it may last a whole lot longer. 

Talk to someone. A friend. A counselor. Someone you can completely open up to. Be completely honest, and question your own logic. Doubt your fears. 

Don’t be like me. Don’t be like Seau. Check your abilities at the door. Control your inner beast. Your sanity and longevity depend on it. 

Rethinking Home Field Advantage

Everyone seems to have a theory about home field advantage. Here’s one you haven’t heard before. 

Freakonomics says it’s the referees. There is probably some truth to this, but what about sports that do not have referees? Since 1983, the host team has won the Ryder Cup 70% of the time. So there is something else at play here.

There are more fouls in important games. But why? If we say that the referees are so crucial to the game outcomes, it’s probably because there is more pressure on them. FiveThirtyEight’s blog did a piece about the home advantage playoff “boost.” Strangely enough, hockey does not get a boost at all.

In baseball, playing at home is only gives you a 2.6% edge.  That’s really low if you’re thinking that crowd, umpires, and atmosphere play a major role here. Not to mention the added advantage of the home team batting last.

Soccer has the best home field advantage of any mainstream sport. The home team wins 49% of the time, and the away team only wins 29% of the time. Draws make up the other 22%.

Also worth noting, Denver athletics have the top home field advantage in every sport [Except hockey. Calgary has the highest advantage in hockey, and has an altitude of 3500 feet]. So altitude definitely plays a role here. 

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It’s clear that it’s the sports. Not the franchises.

So why the huge difference between home field advantage in soccer and basketball?

Being similar endurance sports, you’d expect similar results. The home team in soccer wins 49% of the time, the away team wins 29% of the time, and they draw 22% of the time. If we say that half of the draws are wins, and half are losses you get a home field advantage right on par with that of basketball [8%-10%].

Why doesn’t home field advantage in baseball matter much at all? 

Home advantage in baseball is under 3%. That’s almost a fair game. Take a look at the endurance athletes, that make decisions that impact the play of the game. It’s the pitchers, and they have much less control over a game than a quarterback does on a football field.  Not to mention, they may be pulled before they complete the game for match ups , poor performance, or if they just didn’t have good “stuff” that day. So even if pitchers had a decent control over the action, they may only throw for a couple innings.

Your batters and fielders in baseball are your speed and strength guys. They are less effected by the environment, and translate better to road games.

What conclusions can we make here? 

The main decision makers in the game, what type of athletes are they? If they are endurance athletes, home field advantage is much greater. For example, take the quarterbacks of the NFL. They are going to be the individuals most effected by the change in environment, and since they basically run the show, it’s a much more dramatic home field advantage.

In soccer and basketball, most of the athletes are endurance athletes and decision makers. The new environment has a small but measurable impact in the athletes, changing their timing, essentially. This is why the warm up is essential, even to players who have been at it their whole lives. Conditions are never exactly the same.

Your speed/strength athletes will be effected much less by the conditions. If you’re strong at sea level, you’re strong at 5000 feet. But timing is much more complicated than that. A basketball shot isn’t about how far you can shoot or how high you can jump. It’s a very precise, fluid motion. There’s a lot more room for error around the rim, so your “bigs” in basketball should be less effected by the environment. 

Translating this to football, the majority of the athletes are speed and strength guys. So naturally, the sport is much less effected by home field advantage. The quarterbacks are the athletes most affected by the new environment, and because in most NFL games they play a major role in the outcome, it comes to reason that home field advantage should be close behind soccer and basketball. Obviously, this line of thought has its limitations. Alabama has the biggest, fastest, and strongest players in college football, so the quarterback really doesn’t matter.

The sport is the most important factor in determining the strength of your home field advantage. The nature of the athletes controlling play is more important than altitude or the referees in determining how many wins you have at home. 

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_advantage
  2. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/in-126-years-english-football-has-seen-13475-nil-nil-draws/
  3. https://deadspin.com/which-teams-in-each-sport-have-the-biggest-home-field-a-1828880402
  4. https://statsbylopez.netlify.com/post/playing-at-home/
  5. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-home-playoff-game-is-a-big-advantage-unless-you-play-hockey/
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/sports/soccer/12score.html
  7. https://www.forbes.com/sites/sap/2012/07/25/home-field-advantage/#6598fad73fdc
  8. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.sbnation.com/platform/amp/tennis/2013/8/9/4599096/tennis-home-court-advantage-us-open
  9. https://www.sbnation.com/2011/1/19/1940438/home-field-advantage-sports-stats-data
  10. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cbssports.com/fantasy/baseball/news/home-away-splits-factor-into-making-fantasy-pitching-decisions—but-theres-a-twist/amp/
  11. https://www.google.com/amp/s/gizmodo.com/the-surprising-way-jet-lag-impacts-major-league-basebal-1791521616/amp
  12. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.isportsweb.com/2016/06/29/mlb-analytics-statistical-discrepancies-home-away-games/amp/
  13. http://review.chicagobooth.edu/magazine/spring-2014/home-field-advantage-the-facts-and-the-fiction
  14. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1604854-how-much-does-home-field-advantage-matter-in-soccer
  15. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1520496-how-important-is-home-court-advantage-in-the-nba
  16. https://www.numberfire.com/nfl/news/7490/the-best-home-and-road-quarterbacks-of-2015

Pitchers Are Endurance Athletes

Watching the World Series this past week begs a single question? Why can’t pitchers hit? Before you say because of their builds, think about those outfielders who are built like pitchers, and can hit.

Use it or lose it. They simply don’t take much batting practice, and have even fewer plate appearances. There’s obviously some truth here. But I’d argue that you’d never be able to train most of these pitchers to hit over .200. With infinite resources in an environment that rewards nothing but performance, couldn’t we figure this out?

Pitching is about control. It doesn’t matter if you can throw 105 if you can’t throw strikes. And not just strikes. You need to be able to pick small portions from around the plate. It takes a very specific mindset to throw 95 mph and hit spots. Especially 100 times in a row. And the mindset to hit such a pitch is completely different. Think about most of those pitching motions. They’re typically long and loose. It’s the baseball equivalent to a distance runner. Relaxed, predictable, endurance athletes.

Batting is about reaction. It’s the opposite of control. There’s not much time to react to a major league pitch. Most people can’t even see it. To hit a fastball, you need to be able to change your mind after the ball has been pitched. The movements are shorter, faster, and less predictable. A good hitter hits .300. Any pitcher that threw strikes 30% of the time would’ve stopped playing baseball in high school, or found another position.

Why are most professional pitchers so tall? 

The longer levers help them throw harder while relaxed. Meaning more pitches on target, for a longer period of time. Your third baseman may be able to touch 94 on the gun, but chances are great that with his build he couldn’t throw many pitches consistently on target at that speed. It’s exactly this difference that allows the third baseman to outhit the pitcher every single game. The shorter levers and bigger muscles allow for more changes and more acceleration.

What does John Isner have to do with this? 

He has one of the best serves in the history of the tennis. But also one of the worst return games of anyone inside the top 100. It’s just like baseball. These big athletes do very well when they control the action. When they are reacting, they are just slower. More importantly, John Isner is a great example that you can’t teach a 6’7″ pitcher to hit. Why? Because he has the serving game figured out. If he could just return average for a touring pro, he’d make deep runs in majors, so don’t tell me he doesn’t practice returning. He probably spends at least as much time returning as he does on his serve.

What if the same mindset that makes him such a great server is what made him so tall and not vice versa? If that sounds crazy, you may want to read my post about height.

What about the exceptions? 

Turns out most of the pitchers that were good hitters, couldn’t pitch all that well. I’d argue that the mindset that made them bad pitchers in the first place, gives them a better chance behind the plate.

Babe Ruth is the most interesting exception. He was a great pitcher, and one of the best batters in the history of the game. The problem with viewing him as the missing link, is that he only pitched professionally 10+ innings per year until 1919, and these were some of the worst hitting stretches of his career. After that, he focused almost exclusively on hitting.

What conclusions are there here? 

Baseball is about thinking fast and slow. And those that think fast, bat well. Those that think slow, pitch. A reactive mind is faster, but has much less endurance. The controlled delivery of the best pitchers helps them maintain their velocity and accuracy inning after inning. So your most consistent pitchers are going to have the worst batting averages. And if you find a a way to change their minds and time perception, you may can turn them into hitters, but it will come at a price.

Sources:

  1. https://theconcourse.deadspin.com/why-pitchers-will-always-suck-at-hitting-1620184799
  2. https://www.kansascity.com/sports/mlb/kansas-city-royals/article211588729.html
  3. https://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2011/5/31/2199146/hitter-aging-curves
  4. http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/71693338/new-york-mets-bartolo-colon-among-worst-hitting-pitchers-ever
  5. https://sabr.org/research/does-pitcher-s-height-matter
  6. https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/short-pitchers-still-getting-short-shrift/

Concussions Resolve Themselves

Because they are mini-strokes. 

So how in the world are we going to try to relate these two events? It’s simple, if you accept some of my other proofs. But if you don’t, I would just stop reading right here. Here are the prerequisites to understanding this correlation:

What are the symptoms of a mini-stroke?

  • Weakness or numbness in your arms and/or legs, usually on one side of the body
  • Dysphasia (difficulty speaking)
  • Dizziness
  • Vision changes
  • Tingling (paresthesias)
  • Abnormal taste and/or smells
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Altered consciousness and/or passing out

What are the symptoms of a concussion?

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
  • Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
  • Dizziness or “seeing stars”
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Delayed response to questions
  • Appearing dazed
  • Fatigue

What are the causes of a mini-stroke?

  • Blood pressure readings higher than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)
  • Cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, heart defects, heart infection or abnormal heart rhythm
  • Personal or family history of stroke, heart attack or transient ischemic attack.

Other factors associated with a higher risk of stroke include:

  • Age —People age 55 or older have a higher risk of stroke than do younger people.
  • Race — African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke than do people of other races.
  • Sex — Men have a higher risk of stroke than women. Women are usually older when they have strokes, and they’re more likely to die of strokes than are men.
  • Hormones — use of birth control pills or hormone therapies that include estrogen, as well as increased estrogen levels from pregnancy and childbirth.

We’ve studied almost all of these different causes and can tie them all back to the brain. [The hormones and sleep apnea posts are coming soon.]

Concussion Causes: Impacts to the head

The only symptom that really needs explanation is nausea, and that is a factor of strokes that just seems to not be included in most lists. But then I found this:

A stroke that takes place in the cerebellum can cause coordination and balance problems, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. 

So if you can wrap your head around the prerequisites, I can neatly tie these together. A stroke literally happens when the pressure of your brain gets to high. What happens to the pressure inside a closed sphere if you impact it with something at high speed? Pressure goes up dramatically. The greater the force of the impact, the higher the pressure gets.

So what’s the major take away here? Mini-strokes resolve themselves and do not require any further medical attention. They do not cause any long-term damage. Meaning that concussive blows should resolve themselves within twenty-four hours, and if there are no symptoms, the brain is fine. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.utdallas.edu/research/FAS/
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/symptoms-causes/syc-20350113
  3. https://www.utdallas.edu/research/FAS/
  4. https://www.webmd.com/stroke/news/20100415/can-you-recognize-symptoms-of-minor-stroke

Self-Fulfilling Compulsions

I was watching Nadal play tennis last night, and thought about this. Here’s how you develop a pattern, and prove it to yourself, and basically become superstitious about it.

Think about how superstitious Nadal is. About his routine, his water bottles, stepping over the lines. He’s done this for years and been one of the most successful athletes in his sport.

But how did he get to this point? 

I would say first and foremost is that he doesn’t know what makes him a better tennis player than anyone else. He would probably say he worked harder, but there are 10,000 guys that work just as hard without any grand slam titles. Think about his first successes as a junior. At some point [pardon the pun], he won a match and thought I didn’t step on any lines. Maybe that is why I won. Or my water bottles were perfectly aligned. That is why I won. 

It’s not the compulsion that changes anything. But the fact that he thinks that the compulsions control things, change things. If he doubts that his tennis game can exist outside of these compulsions, he’d panic and lose his flow. We’ve shown how panic can shorten time and add strength, but it also takes away endurance and fluidity.

So, yes Nadal can play great tennis outside of his routines. But the fact that he doesn’t think he can, keeps him from it.

 

Hyperhidrosis: Beyond the Sweat

Heavy sweating, if you’re an athlete, can be dangerous or even deadly. So what causes it and can it be prevented?

What do we know about hyperhidrosis?

Some people sweat a lot. This is what we call it. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Hyperhidrosis is a condition characterized by abnormally increased sweating, in excess of that required for regulation of body temperature. Although primarily a physical burden, hyperhidrosis can deteriorate quality of life from a psychological, emotional, and social perspective. It has been called by some ‘the silent handicap’.

Both the words diaphoresis and hidrosis can mean either perspiration (in which sense they are synonymous with sweating) or excessive perspiration, in which case they refer to a specific, narrowly defined, clinical disorder.

So using our crazy concept of time, can we make any progress? Yes.

Those with hyperhidrosis may have greater stress levels and more frequent depression.

Here is why that shouldn’t surprise you: these people sweat more because they stress more. Time is slower for them, so they are literally in the heat for longer than you. Think about what you’d look like if ran four miles instead of one. They are going to burn more calories, sweat more, cramp more often, and be more fatigued.

So if that is true, how do you prevent cramps?

Relax. Relax your mind, and your body. Once you start straining, time dilates. If you must push yourself beyond relaxed exertion, remember what you’re doing. Refuel accordingly. You’re going to burn a whole lot more calories under constant stress than you would relaxing, so prepare accordingly. As your blood sugar depletes, your body will circulate the remainder faster to keep levels up in your brain. This stresses the body even more, so keep your blood sugar in check. Find a routine that works for you. Take the rest that is given to you in whatever you’re doing. And most importantly, listen to your body. If you can’t focus and are constantly overheated, more exertion is not going to level you out.

What about salt?

It seems like there are a bunch of minerals lost to sweat. The current belief is, that if we replace those minerals, you don’t dehydrate, or at least don’t cramp. I don’t disagree with this. Replace whatever you lose. But know that if you can’t relax and control your perception of time, you won’t be able to eat enough bananas to counteract the strain.

Sources:

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/muscle-cramp/symptoms-causes/syc-20350820
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperhidrosis

 

Clutch is a mindset

Steph Curry is a good golfer…a really good golfer. He essentially competed on the professional level, and didn’t embarrass himself.

So how does that connect to being clutch? Bear with me.

Here’s why his golf ability shouldn’t surprise you: he’s the best shooter in the NBA. You could probably argue he’s the best shooter in NBA history. How does that translate to golf? Well in fundamentals, it doesn’t. But the mindset is the same. The state of mind it takes to replicate shots from beyond the arc is similar to that of a professional golfer.

What you’re going to say is that Steph’s dad was in the NBA, so he’s just got good genes. Believe that if you want. Tell your kids they can never shoot like that. They can.

The fundamentals are easy, the mindset is what takes practice. You can teach a kid how to shoot a basketball in an hour. But to have him be able to pull a three with confidence at the buzzer in the NBA finals, there are only a couple people on the planet even qualified to have that conversation.

Think about all the guys you knew growing up that were “naturally athletic.” Maybe you knew that guy that was good at everything. This is not a coincidence. The mind and body work best together at a certain state, and they have just found it. Malcom Gladwell wrote about it taking 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. That may be true, but some people get head starts, and this is how.

Steve Kerr [Steph’s coach] uses the Inner Game of Tennis for psychology in pressure situations. [article] This book is about the psychology of an athlete, and how to separate your thinking self from your playing self, and how to perform your best.

It’s all the same. When you find the infamous zone you’ve found your ground state. When you’ve removed yourself from the equation and let your body do what it already knows how to do.

Don’t let your mind get in the way of your performance. It has no place on the court, whether it be basketball, tennis, or golf. When you start thinking, you start losing.