This post is largely outside of my area of expertise or knowledge. But I’ve always been interested in sports and what makes for effective athletic performance. Below I’m going to list some of the miscellaneous things I’ve thought about, including some of my guesses. I welcome commenters to clue me in and add their own thoughts.
- The jump shot in basketball. Why is it so good? Why is it so accurate? The jump shot is taken while the shooter is floating in air, sometimes descending, sometimes translating xy across the floor. Makes no sense. But a few guesses. 1. Our brain (mainly cerebellum) is spectacularly good at subtracing self-motion. This means that we can operate effectively in the “inertial frame”, that is, earth-based coordinates. 2. Removing power from the shot is actually a good thing. This means that the release time is elongated, giving more time for feedback control and correction.*
- Where does power come from when a baseball batter strikes the ball? We have a collision between bat and ball. In high school and college physics we can calculate the result when two pool balls of different mass and velocity collide. If we apply the rule here, what is the effective mass of the bat? My guess is that its something like bat+batter+earth with the connections at the junctions (like grip of hands on the bat) only partial.
- Curveballs and Knuckleballs. Even more mysterious than airplanes.
- Why are big guys (Wilt Chamberlain) bad at free-throws? Two reasons. Most important: The skill set needed for being an effective big man in basketball has little to do with the fine motor coordination of free-throw shooting. But also, the requirement for free-throw shooting is to be weak. That is, you want to launch the ball using your fine motor control (fingers, forearm), and you want to launch for the greatest amount of time possible to permit feedback correction. If you muscles are too strong, the launch time is reduced.
- How can golfers have “feel” during execution of a putt? The contact time is too short.
- What’s going through the mind of a pro-level athlete? How does such an athlete combine highly skilled motor performance with strategy? (see my post: “A Fan’s Notes“)
- The biomechanics of throwing a baseball, a football, a tennis ball, a softball, a ping pong ball. The weight and size of the ball are big factors. How does the size and build of the thrower come into play?
- In “the Natural” Robert Redford does NOT look like a professional baseball player. Why? To my eye it just looked impossible for him to hit with power. Yet there are power hitting baseball players who are small (Willie Mays, Ernie Banks). My guess is that core power is crucial. But how does this show on the outside?
- And finally for today, how can a center fielder catch a fly ball? My guess it is the cerebellum that is chiefly responsible for subtracting out self-movement and working effectively in the “inertial frame”, that is, earth-based coordinates.
That’s it for now. I welcome comments, corrections, reactions, and suggestions about other athletic mysteries.
* students of the history of basketball will know that it took decades for the jump shot to be accepted by coaches. Through the 1940s coaches said that an accurate shot must be executed with two hands and both feet on the ground. I also am puzzled about how I learned the jump shot. I struggled to get it through high school. It felt as if I wasn’t strong enough. At about age 18 there was a click. Thereafter, it seemed easy. Strength was not the issue.