Forget Your Rangefinder? Make your Own

Our optical world is pretty incredible, in that the further we are from objects the smaller they are in our field of view. Our brain accounts for this. It takes this relative height into account when judging the size of distance objects. It’s not something you have to think about, it happens automatically.

Next time you’re on the golf course, you can use it to your benefit. The flagstick is always seven feet high, regardless of how far you are from it. But in your field of vision, it may appear much smaller.

With your arm fully extended, thumb up, and body facing the flag, close one eye and observe the height of the flag relative to your thumb.

When you’re a hundred yards out, from this position, use a pen and mark the relative size of the flag on your thumb. At a hundred and fifty yards, do the same thing. At two hundred yards, do the same thing.  As long as you stand the same way relative to the flag, you have a makeshift rangefinder. And it can be as accurate as you want it to be. Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll be down to the yard accurate, but it should be possible to narrow the distance to ten to twenty yards with a properly ‘calibrated thumb.’

If you want to take it up a notch, there is no real reason to even know yardages anyways. We only use those to pick clubs. So next time you do it, just write the club number down instead of the yardage.

A Simpler USTA Algorithm

I’ve played tennis for years. The USTA is our governing body, and they have a fancy algorithm that they use to rank players based on outcomes of matches, taking the score into play. For instance, if I win 6-2 6-2, I gain more ground than a 7-6 7-6 win. It makes sense on paper, but I think it’s time for a change.

People game the system. People lose on purpose all the time to “keep their ratings” or get bumped down. It’s easy to do because the system punishes bad losses and rewards big wins, especially over strong opponents.

A simple win-loss system, with a similar algorithm could solve most of the problem.

It would be harder to get bumped down. If you get trounced, it counts just the same as a close loss.

There would be very little reason to throw matches. A win is a win. And a loss is a loss. There is nothing in between. So instead of trying to create information that’s not there, we just use what we know for certain. And if we reduce the benefit of throwing matches, we have a better sport. 

The downside is it would probably take more matches to have meaningful ratings.

For example, two players play each other, both with established ratings of 4.25 and 4.05. The 4.25 player is expected to win. If he loses, he loses points, and the 4.05 player gains points. Half of the difference of the two scores would be the points at stake, and because it is a zero sum game, we can only give those back out. So we subtract 0.1 from 4.25 and have two players rated 4.15. And obviously, there is no rating change between players of the same level. And no change if the higher-rated player wins. 

How would mixed doubles work? Keep it as simple as possible. We combine the ratings of the teams. Let’s say for this example that we have 7.8 [3.4+4.4] and 7.6 [4.0+3.6]. The difference of the scores is 0.2, so there is 0.1 of points available. If the better team wins, there is no change. If the worse team wins, the teams become 7.7 points a piece. To get to that number, we must subtract 0.05 points from each player on the 7.8 team, and add 0.05 points to each player on the 7.6-team. So the teams become: 7.7 [3.35+4.35] and 7.7 [4.05+3.65]. There’s not enough information to tell the reason for the win, or to weight anything according to scores. So a win is a win, and each player benefits [or loses] equally.

If we can clean up the algorithm, we can clean up the sport. But as long as the algorithm values aspects of the sport that the players don’t necessarily care about, you open yourself up to tanking. And when you have a system that rewards tanking in sport, it becomes a competition in sandbagging.


‘Precision under pressure’

We use this term is several of our recent posts. It’s an idea that needs further explanation.

I’ll start by summarizing our theory of time perception in the brain: proportional to stress. So the more stress, either external or internal, the slower time is perceived. There is not shortage of application or development of this theory in other posts. 

This is important because brain entropy is internal pressure. The more stress we put on athletes, mental or physical, the more brain entropy they have, and the slower they perceive time.

How does that apply to precision? Imagine your golf swing as a single fluid motion. If you are 50% accurate with your swing, about half the balls will go where you want them to. But if your swing has two motions, there is twice as much room for error. So the more thought you have in your swing, the less accurate it can be. And the more stressed you are, the slower time is for you. The more time for thought in the swing, and more room for error on the shot. Therefore, less stress equals less entropy equals faster time perception which equals more accurate movements over a longer period of time.

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This is why a swing will break down under pressure. And why a natural athlete needs to be aware of the fundamentals of their practice. Because in crunch time, things feel different. You have more time to swing, throw, or kick. So if you don’t know how to tune out the pressure or adjust to it, you will become unpredictable over time.

This is why practice is crucial. You practice to develop your skills but also tune them to each level of stress. If you casually hit tennis balls every day, you may not be match ready. There is more stress. And as the match wears on, you get more tired, which also increases stress.

With this in mind, you can start to see the advantage of a bigger brain. The bigger the brain, the greater the volume the athlete can reach without reaching the same level of entropy. There is essentially just more room for pressure.

And when pressure gets high, entropy gets high, and time gets slow. And when time gets slow, it gets harder and harder to accurately do the same thing over and over again with predictable results.


The Biggest Brain of All

Nearly every Olympics sees Chinese champions in certain events. They dominate ping pong, gymnastics, shooting, badminton, diving, and weight lifting. The question is why.

We recently explore the athletic head, and used it to explain the racial disparity of some sports. We then looked at the bigger head and used our model to predict and explain the advantages of having a bigger brain in sports. Well, the Chinese brain is the biggest of all. 

So why would the group with the biggest brains in the world dominate these sports?

Badminton and ping pong are repetitive and very precise repeated movements. A bigger brain helps make these movements more predictable over time.

More precision under even more pressure. Diving and gymnastics are choreographed. They come down to who can execute the most difficult routines with the most precision.

Even more sleep. With an even larger brain, it takes even longer to cool off.

Less muscle endurance. The brain uses more energy leaving less for the rest of the body.

Why do they dominate weightlifting? You would assume that the smaller brain with the best acceleration would be king here. It’s just not the case. 

So lets assume that you have two people that are the exact same strength and exact same weight. One has a larger brain. The lift itself becomes more of a choreographed dance at this point. The lifter who can have the best form, while staying relaxed will lift more weight. The smaller brain, although with a greater ability to accelerate, also has much more room for error. Under duress, the smaller brain could produce less predictable movements. Or worse form. The smaller brain would reach its pressure threshold first, leaving the larger brain the winner. 



The Advantages of the Bigger Brain in Sports

We recently explored the athletic head. What about the rest of us?

A bigger skull means a lower likelihood of stroke. The bigger the skull, the lower the chance of it reaching its pressure limit.

Better mental endurance. Thinking for longer periods of time.

More sleep required. More time will be needed to cool off this entropy. Even if the brain has the same theoretical temperature, the larger volume will take longer to cool off.

More precision in pressure. I always think of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. If bigger brains play with more precision over time, it seems like atmosphere, time, and other conditions would not effect the large brains as much.

Better at repeatable movements over a long period of time. While the small brains fire more quickly, they also have less precision and endurance. I would look at the massive racial disparities in golf and tennis

I think we have to assume that economics alone do not explain this disparity. We have to assume that if there was a massive pool of untapped talent hiding in low-income communities, someone would’ve found it by now.  



Let’s look at home field advantage again with this in mind. The black-dominated sports have the biggest home field advantages. And the white-dominated sports have much less of an advantage at home. In that article, we said that it was the nature of the sport that was the difference in the home field advantage. I think there is more to the story.



So why is home field advantage so strong in the NBA?. Because speed and explosiveness come at a premium. It doesn’t matter if you have someone who literally has never missed a three-pointer in his life, if he can’t move and get the shot up quickly, he can’t play in the NBA. So if speed and explosiveness come at a premium, the fastest and most explosive people will likely be better at it. If I have a team of track stars and you have a team of shooters, we’ll win because we can run past the defense and shoot a higher percentage. We’d also have better close-out defense, and get more rebounds. So instead of having the absolute best shooters on the planet in the NBA, we have the best athletes that can shoot. 

Why is hockey so different? Why is its home field advantage so much less than basketball? Because explosiveness is undervalued. Apollo Ono could be on the ice but never make a huge difference. The rink is shorter, so there are fewer breakaways, and nobody leaves the ice. So jumping doesn’t matter.  Precision is important, but explosiveness is not premium. 

So the nature of the sport determines the type of athlete that is most valued. That value determines the type of brain that can perform best under the conditions of the sport. Those criteria determine which races dominate different sports. And those races determine the relative difference of home field advantage.



The Athletic Head: The Real Advantage of Race in Sports

We’ve written about race in sports before. That’s actually where this whole thing started unraveling for me.

There’s a statistical discrepancy in the skull size of black people and others: they’re smaller. There’s some debate as to what it means and if there is even a discrepancy at all. Let’s just assume for a minute that the African brain is smaller on average than other brains. 

Why is that important? Because with our brain entropy model, this smaller-skulled race would have an athletic advantage. Especially in “fast twitch” events. Because the engine is smaller, it takes less energy to start, and therefore can start quicker.

White people can’t jump. If you assume that the more entropy you have in the brain, the slower the time perception, smaller brains would be much more likely to jump higher and run faster.

Faster recovery. If we also assume the brain is made of the same substance, this smaller brain would also cool off faster when overheated. Another advantage in most sports.

Less sleep. If sleep cools the brain, a smaller brain would mean less cooling, and less sleep necessary to zero out entropy from the day. We’ve explored this concept before. 

What about all those great distance runners from Kenya? I’ll just put this here. Brain_Size_Map.png

But also, this race has a much greater risk of death by stroke or heart attack. How does that relate? A stroke happens when your brain pressure gets too high. For smaller brains, higher pressure is easier to attain. So the same mechanism that gives them an advantage at sports, increases their risk of early death.

Assuming that the African brain is smaller, we can predict most aspects that set them apart as athletes as well as their sleep patterns and elevated risks of heart attack and stroke.



Don’t Move the Line Back

If you want to change the game, change the value of the shot.

The problem is not how good the players are getting at threes. Is how lopsided the valuation of the shots is. A good shooter makes 50% of their twos. To make the expected value the same, a three point shooter needs to shoot 33%. Which isn’t even a good number, nowadays.

For a shot that’s only 17% percent harder, it’s valued 50% more. It was only a matter of time until shooters were going to spread the court and light it up.

So to fix the problem, I’d suggest addressing the point value. While it would be a mess on paper, value the old 3’s at 2.34 points. You don’t have to repaint anything, and you naturally shift the game back to what it used to be. Too much post play at that number? Bump it to 2.5.

The scoreboard may get messy, but it may be worth it. Plus, you can keep the game style steady by adjusting the points as needed before the start of season.

What causes knockouts?

Preliminary reading: Concussions Do Not Cause CTE and Concussions Resolve Themselves

Stress and blood pressure builds over the course of the fight, and the volatility of the boxer increases as he gets tired and damage is done.

By the end of the fight, it takes much less of a blow for the boxer the cross the pressure threshold and lose consciousness. So even as the punches lose power, the boxers are still more and more likely to get knocked out.

Each punch raises the internal pressure of the brain system of the boxer. While they recover between rounds, and between blows, the threshold for a mini-stroke becomes lower and lower. Once that threshold is reached, lights-out.

Dear Tiger Woods,

You aren’t trying to be the healthiest golfer in the world. Do not change your diet. Or if you do, keep in mind that your game may change as well. Lowering your weight does not necessarily lower your score. Look at Brooks Koepka or Jason Dufner. There are all sorts of examples.

You aren’t trying to be the strongest golfer in the world. Yes, extra yards off the tee are great, but they don’t mean anything if you can’t get the ball in the cup. Take it to the extreme and you have the Hulk Hogan wannabes hitting the balls half a mile, but they couldn’t hold a torch to the average pro player. Tiger and Rory are exceptions not the rule. And they have had to make major adjustments after they started really hitting the weight room. And they have had their struggles around the greens.

The sport is a very delicate balance of slow and fast switch, power and finesse, and mental endurance. And as we’ve demonstrated in our article about pitching, gaining fast twitch muscles comes at a price.

Your trainer is not a professional golfer. If he was, he wouldn’t be a trainer. He knows how to get you in better shape. If he knew how to make you the best golfer in the world, he would be the best golfer in the world.

Your nutritionist is not a professional golfer. He just isn’t. So start keto or slow carb or whatever so you look better at the beach, but it will come at a cost. Your brain is the most delicate organ of your body. And your nutritionist does not know how your brain works.

What matters is results. Your job is to shoot low. If your trainer or nutritionist takes you down a path that changes your golf game in a negative way, kick the diet. Kick the workout routine. Otherwise you give away your edge. You’re not trying to be the best golfer in the world with a six-pack. You’re trying to be the best golfer in the world.

No one knows how you got to where you were. If they did, they would be there. If anyone asked you, you probably told them that it was all the hours you put in on the range growing up. I won’t argue with that. But I bet you didn’t make drastic diet changes during your teenage years while you were developing your swing and ironing out the kinks. So when you make these changes, be prepared to go back to the drawing board. And there is no one in the world that can get you back to where you were, except you.