Monday, May 3, 2010

Uncool Sports Techniques

A fascinating Wall Street Journal article last week discussed how Andy Murray's fellow tennis players demean his "pusher" style, even though he's ranked in the top 10 in the world. This spurred an exchange between a buddy and me about whether athletes foresake "uncool" techniques, even if they're potentially superior.

The prime example I could think of is underhand (or "granny" style) free-throw shooting, most famously practiced by Rick Barry in the '60s and '70s.

My buddy argued for the merits of the overhand shot:

Also --- I'd argue shooting an overhand (or whatever you call it, traditional) free throw is good because of the halo effect.

At the free throw line a struggling shooter can build confidence in his shooting motion by taking easy shots in the overhand motion. So take a few free throws, get your shot back, and suddenly you're swishing three-pointers again.
I can see his point, although Discover magazine and others disagree. Remaining agnostic, I asked: "Did you give underhand a fair shake when you were a kid, weighing the pros and cons and eventually deciding to abandon it?" It was a loaded question, of course. No kid gives underhand shooting the time of day, even if the (potentially) minor advantage might have scored him a few more points, won him a few more games, and so on.

By the way, I'm not the first person to make this observation.


Robert LaHue said...

The SI article on the single wing offense made a similar argument: That the single wing never stopped being an effective offense, just that other formations and playing styles become more trendy and exciting for fans. (In other words, $$$)

I think trends tend to be more rampant in football than other sports. Think about it. First everybody ran the single wing. Then came the T-formation. Then the I. Then pro sets. Then the spreads. The Dolphins first ran the Wildcat two years ago. I'll bet at least 20 teams in the NFL run some kind of Wildcat this year. Although, the Wildcat is a glorified single wing, so maybe it's cycles as much as anything.