Monday, June 07, 2010
How They Do It
This weekend's New York Times Magazine carried an in-depth look at a privately-run sports academy whose purpose is to locate and groom kids with world-class athletic potential. Its cost to parents: essentially nil. This sports academy -- its name, De Toekomst, means "The Future" in Dutch -- is in Europe and serves for professional soccer club Ajax the same purpose as a farm system would for a Major League Baseball team.
I'll highlight just a few of the interesting points the article brought up.
The article indicates that, at least as far as general approaches to coaching go, the Ajax system emphasizes the development of individual players more than does the American approach (at least for team sports).
Americans like to put together teams, even at the Pee Wee level, that are meant to win. The best soccer-playing nations build individual players, ones with superior technical skills who later come together on teams the U.S. struggles to beat. In a way, it is a reversal of type. Americans tend to think of Europeans as collectivists and themselves as individualists. But in sports, it is the opposite. The Europeans build up the assets of individual players. Americans underdevelop the individual, although most of the volunteers who coach at the youngest level would not be cognizant of that.The profit motive serves to protect younger players from spending too much time playing with too little instruction on fundamentals.
[O]ne element of the academy's success is that the boys are not overplayed, so the hours at De Toekomst are all business. Through age 12, they train only three times a week and play one game on the weekend. "For the young ones, we think that’s enough," Riekerink said when we talked in his office one day. "They have a private life, a family life. We don't want to take that from them. When they are not with us, they play on the streets. They play with their friends. Sometimes that's more important. They have the ball at their feet without anyone telling them what to do."I would also say that the profit motive selects for a better means of spotting talent.
[and, two pages later]
[T]he balance between games and practice in the U.S. is skewed when compared with the rest of the world. It's not unusual for a teenager in the U.S. to play 100 or more games in a season, for two or three different teams, leaving little time for training and little energy for it in the infrequent moments it occurs. A result is that the development of our best players is stunted. They tend to be fast and passionate but underskilled and lacking in savvy compared with players elsewhere.
[and, on the next page]
De Toekomst is not where you come to hear a romantic view of sport. No one pretends that its business is other than what it is. "We sold Wesley Sneijder for a ridiculous amount of money," Versloot said. "We can go on for years based on what he was sold for."
After a series of these auditions, some players would be formally enrolled in the Ajax (pronounced EYE-ox) academy. A group of men standing near me looked on intently, clutching rosters that matched the players with their numbers. One man, Ronald de Jong, said: "I am never looking for a result -- for example, which boy is scoring the most goals or even who is running the fastest. That may be because of their size and stage of development. I want to notice how a boy runs. Is he on his forefeet, running lightly? Does he have creativity with the ball? Does he seem that he is really loving the game? I think these things are good at predicting how he’ll be when he is older."It is interesting to note further that, as big as soccer is in Europe, its colleges do not serve as feeders in a de facto farm system for professional leagues as they do here in America.
Aside from the moral battle to turn the tide of political momentum towards capitalism, there is also what I think of as the battle of imagination. Even people sympathetic to the cause of limited government are often flummoxed when considering how certain things done by the government as it is today could be done in a free society.
Here, we see in detail a viable model for spotting and training professional athletes that, unlike systems in place in America today, neither relies significantly on public education nor costs parents significant amounts of money. Incidentally, such a model could easily apply to areas of endeavor besides sports.
Solar Weather Watch
The Sun appears to be waking up from the low point in its sunspot cycle, and this could mean big trouble for our technologically advanced society:
Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity. A century-class solar storm, the Academy warned, could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.This isn't the Next Global Warming Hysteria. Consider the below account of the Carrington Event in 1859:
[T]elegraph systems crashed, machines burst into flames, and electric shocks rendered operators unconscious. Compasses and other sensitive instruments reeled as if struck by a massive magnetic fist.Luckily, existing technology seems close to being able to forecast and, through preventative measures, mitigate the greater damage such an event could cause to our even more electrified world.
Charles Blow of the New York Times analyzes recent polling that shows homosexuality bearing far less stigma among men than it once did. The following passage was both spot-on and amusing:
[T]here is a growing body of research that supports the notion that homophobia in some men could be a reaction to their own homosexual impulses. Many heterosexual men see this, and they don't want to be associated with it. It's like being antigay is becoming the old gay. Not cool.When I was very young, I'd occasionally be taunted for being gay simply, at least insofar as the reason had anything to do with me, for being slight of build and using words of more than one or two syllables. (It was invariably some redneck who would do this.) The above hypothesis makes a huge amount of sense to me, given the kinds of mumbo jumbo that rednecks emotionalistically associate with masculinity.
A God in His Image
The amusing Fail Blog image at this link reminds me of the truism that you can gain sometimes gain insight into whether a religious person is benevolent by the kind of god he worships.