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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Smart Notes and Links 7/28/09

1. Brett Favre is not happy about this and will unretire to prove it. A commemorative decoration (ht Maize 'n Brew, via

2. How science can save you from choking. This new bit from Jonah Lehrer is a nice complement to my earlier post on football decision making and the brain.

Kenny Perry could taste history. He had a two-shot lead with two holes to go at the 2009 Masters - all he had to do was not make any big mistakes and he would become, at 48, the oldest Masters champion in history. For three days at Augusta, he had played the best golf of his life: on the first 70 holes, he made only four bogeys. But then, at the 71st hole, everything started to fall apart. . . .

We call such failures "choking", if only because a person frayed by pressure might as well not have oxygen. What makes choking so morbidly fascinating is that the performers are incapacitated by their own thoughts. Perry, for example, was so worried about not making a mistake on the 17th that he played a disastrous chip. His mind sabotaged itself.

Scientists have begun to uncover the causes of choking, diagnosing the particular mental differences that allow some people to succeed while others wither in the spotlight. Although it might seem like an amorphous category of failure, their work has revealed that choking is triggered by a specific mental mistake: thinking too much.

The sequence of events typically goes like this: when people get nervous about performing, they become self-conscious. They start to fixate on themselves, trying to make sure that they don't make any mistakes. This can be lethal for a performer. The bowler concentrates too much on his action and loses control of the ball. The footballer misses the penalty by a mile. In each instance, the natural fluidity of performance is lost; the grace of talent disappears.

Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, has helped illuminate the anatomy of choking. She uses golf as her experimental paradigm. When people are learning how to putt, it can seem daunting. There are just so many things to think about. Golfers need to assess the lay of the green, calculate the line of the ball, and get a feel for the grain of the turf. Then they have to monitor their putting motion and make sure that they hit the ball with a smooth, straight stroke. For an inexperienced player, a golf putt can seem unbearably hard, like a life-sized trigonometry problem.

But the mental exertion pays off, at least at first. Beilock has shown that novices hit better putts when they consciously reflect on their actions. The more time they spend thinking about the putt, the more likely they are to hole the ball. By concentrating on their game, by paying attention to the mechanics of their stroke, they can avoid beginner's mistakes.

A little experience, however, changes everything.

3. "SEC offers great drama, even football." The Big 10 media day, however, does not live up to its frat-guy, party school reputation. (And this gets a link solely because of the Dr. Octagon reference.)

4. Can NCAA athletes be denied access to agents? I don't have a ready answer to this question, though read up about it here. (Ht Dr Saturday.)

5. Monte Kiffin would like to remind you again that he will outwork you. You know, just in case you forgot.

6. An inviting summary:

With the ESPN cameras gone and prize money drying up, the glory years of the Lumberjack world championships appear to be long over.

7. Back when I wrote this, I got a fair bit of heat and disagreement:

Hello! Plaxico Burress is going to jail. . . . [T]he NFL community -- and not just fans -- seem rather blind to the reality that Plaxico faces gun charges with a mandatory minimum sentence and the prosecutors do not appear interested in granting him grace, and so he is going to serve some real jail time. Who he signs with is rather beside the point.

Well, it appears to finally be sinking in. The NY Times reports:

Manhattan's district attorney says he wants former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress to serve time in prison, the New York Post reported. Robert Morgenthau told the newspaper that Burress, who shot himself with an unlicensed gun in November, was willing to agree to spend a year in jail, but prosecutors insisted on two.

''We've always taken the position that he's going to have to go to jail, whether by trial or by plea,'' Morgenthau told the Post for a story in Monday's edition.

Again, remember that this gun possession charge Burress was hit with has a two-years mandatory minimum. Sure, he can plead for less, but this doesn't seem a particularly difficult charge to prove: he brought the gun into the club and shot himself. That makes this next bit a bit strange to me.

Brafman [Plaxico's lawyer] had previously said he no longer thought the matter would be resolved through a plea agreement and that prosecutors would take the case to a grand jury. He also said Burress would plead not guilty if the case went to trial.

Again, not sure what a not guilty plea would get Plax.


Anonymous said...

Chris, I'm not big on the whole legal aspect of it, but if there isn't a gun that can be found, how does that impact the case?

Jay said...


They've got the gun. Burress gave it to Antonio Pierce, which is why Pierce is still on the hook.

4.0 Point Stance said...

Maybe he's hoping for a jury nullification based on his fame. A risky ploy to say the least.

Anonymous said...

re: lumberjacking

The ocho cant arrive soon enough. I miss Aussie Rules football and lumberjacking and supercross and etc. that ESPN and the Deuce used to use to fill time when they didnt have more mainstream sports to show.