A Fan’s Notes: Ray Rice’s amazing run and what it says about conscious decision making

I’m a big Ray Rice fan. Last Sunday Ray made an amazing run on 4th and 29; some have called it the play of the season. I watched re-runs many times (he said, sheepishly).ray

A few hours later I watched the press conference interview, where he describes what was going thru his mind. Fascinating.

There is debate in Neuroscience about free will and conscious decision making. When we think we are making a deliberative choice, are we fooling ourselves? I believe, generally not.

There is also a fascinating interplay between habit and deliberative choice. When you think about driving along a familiar route, most decisions seem to be automatic, sub-conscious. On occasion, you have to think about it. Is this the right turn? Is that guy on my right about to swerve into me? In a similar fashion, athletes at some level of skill only attend to top-level decisions, such as strategy, and, if well trained can ignore the mechanics. Superb, professional athletes work at the highest levels. In the 7 seconds of Ray’s run he appears to have made about 4 discrete decisions:

  1. (do something) to make the first defender miss
  2. slant left and watch the next wave of defenders “flip their hips”, which tells him things are going well
  3. Analyze the vectors on the field that will take him past the 1st down marker.
  4. decide whether to cut up field, where he had a chance (and would count on the refs) or to continue to the sideline. He cuts upfield.

The first video, below, is the 14 second play. The final 7 seconds are the run.

The second video is the interview.

It’s important to point out that Ray is doing many, many things he doesn’t talk about. Churning his legs, transferring the ball from one arm to the other, leaning forward at optimal angle for power running, etc. These are habit, automatic functions for a perfectly trained pro athlete, and no conscious supervision is required. If training were not perfect, these would need conscious attention, detracting from the ability to make strategic decisions.

I also liked his use of the phrase, “I saw them flick their hips” (hard to hear). I’m guessing that this is what running backs are trained to look for. Pro defensive backs are amazing; they run backwards and sideways at almost full speed. But, on occasion, they must change gait or direction and “flick their hips”. A running back looks for this and, in an instant, makes a decision to take advantage.

Anyway, watch the videos, and see if you agree. The run:

the interview:


1 thought on “A Fan’s Notes: Ray Rice’s amazing run and what it says about conscious decision making

  1. Pingback: Sports, Biomechanics, Neuroscience | Corona Radiata

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