10 Nov 2008

Another Post Containing Possibly Useful Advice

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In an article that is surely tongue-in-cheek, Jeff Tucker reveals his deepest anxiety:

The fear is that while walking [in the park] and enjoying the day, a ball from one of these groups will inadvertently roll your way. Everyone on the team has his eye on that ball, which is now at your feet. You must pick up the ball and return it to the team in a manner fitting to the game.

So, for example, you can’t kick a baseball or basketball back. You have to throw the baseball with accuracy to the guy holding up the glove. The basketball must be returned with one of those two-hand push things and done in a manner that defies gravity. The football must be returned so that it flies like a bullet with no odd twists and turns. The soccer ball must be kicked bang on and straight to the person who awaits its return.

This trick must be performed without any warm up whatsoever. As a man, you must be able to instantly become the greatest player of the game in question. Why must you do this? Because…well, because you are a man!

For any man, this instills a sense of complete terror. Some men are so frozen by the prospect of screwing up that they pretend not to see the ball at all, which is a jerky thing to do. But it’s better to be regarded as a jerk than a complete incompetent.

First, can I ask: Is this really something that a lot of guys worry about? I remember Richard Feynman said the same thing in one of his books. I can honestly say that though I worry about a heck of a lot, this type of thing never concerned me. The only thing I can think of coming close, is that I would get a little nervous if people were playing frisbee, because then if it happened to come right for me, I would have to catch it rather than duck or otherwise dodge it. But even there, the worry wasn’t too severe, because it would really have to be coming right at me to make it obvious if I chose not to attempt to catch it, and even in that case, I would probably be able to catch it.

Now admittedly, probably the reason I am not terrified whereas Jeff (and Feynman) claim otherwise, is that I actually played soccer and basketball in leagues for several years–though never at the high school level, so you true athletes must understand that I am not boasting here. But my point is, there’s no doubt in my mind that I can return either of those balls appropriately, and moreover I can throw a decent spiral and a baseball toss too, so Jeff’s worry really is hard for me to imagine.

Anyway, let me give some tips in case this is really an anxiety some of you face. (And I’m assuming most of my readers are nerd guys, so presumably you will benefit from these tips.)

SOCCER BALL: OK this one is easy: Do not kick it with your toe. First of all, you might hurt yourself, second of all, it could fly off at a weird angle, and third of all, it will be obvious you have never played soccer. Rather, hit the ball with the inside of your foot. (This is really hard to describe on a blog post; I now understand Hayek’s point about inarticulable knowledge.) So when the ball is in front of you, you want to approach it and then (with your strong foot of course) sweep your leg forward, so that you strike the ball on the inside of your foot, in between the ball of your foot and the heel. Note that your foot is still parallel to the ground; i.e. you’re not striking the ball with the bottom of your foot. It’s better to err on the side of kicking it too hard, because as long as it’s in the general vicinity of one of the guys, he can always trap it. In contrast, if you kick it way too softly, that might look kinda dumb if the guy still has to run up 10 feet to retrieve it. The beauty of kicking it with the side of your foot in a sweeping motion, is that it will naturally keep the ball down. Ideally, you want to be slightly lifting your foot higher as you sweep forward and make contact with the ball, so that you’re almost rolling it. Of course you should practice this a few times before trying it out, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll see it’s almost impossible to screw up. The worst you could do is not kick it hard enough, in which case you’re still helping the guys.

BASKETBALL: OK there is really no reason AT ALL to be afraid on this one. If the intended recipient is too far for you to confidently reach him with a straight-on chest pass, then do a two-handed chest pass (i.e. pushing it outward from your chest) to the ground at a point in between the two of you. (In my head, I can’t picture where you want to aim, e.g. before or after the midway point. It partly depends on how hard you’re pushing the ball.) If you are so far away that you’re not even confident you can reach the guy with a single bounce, then don’t pass it with a double-handed push. Instead, just toss it towards the recipient with a single hand, so that it bounce-bounce-bounces over. You can toss it underhand, or overhand in a very weak baseball throw. Those are both perfectly acceptable. The only way you could look stupid returning a basketball, is if you don’t throw it straight. But as long as you get that down, the manner in which you deliver it is fairly immaterial.

BASEBALL: Now it starts getting tougher. With the baseball, there is the possibility that you really could make an ass of yourself, and that would be the deadly sin of throwing like a girl. If you throw like a girl, then yeah, you should probably structure your park walks to minimize the chance that you will be expected to return a baseball. (And no, there’s no way I can explain over the Internet how to not throw like a girl.) But, assuming you know how to throw, and you’re just worried about calibrating what may very well be the first baseball throw you’ve executed in months, I guess my advice is to at least make sure you are helping. So for example, if one guy is running towards you, and you overthrow it, that’s still fine, so long as he just picks up the ball on his route back to the game anyway. But make sure you don’t throw it such that he ends up having to run more than if you hadn’t intervened at all. If your accuracy is really terrible, it’s probably safest to err on the side of underthrowing it. He will still have to jog out towards you, but you’re still saving part of his time. And then you can add a “whups sorry” when it’s obvious your throw was off.

FOOTBALL: OK this one really is tough. Ideally you would like to throw a tight spiral into the chest of the intended recipient. But, most guys can’t do that on the first throw. If the guy is close enough to you, you could consider an underhand toss. But, chances are you are just going to have to suck it up and hope to eke out a wobbly spiral.

In conclusion, just remember that these guys are in the middle of a game; they don’t really care about the guy strolling in the park who tosses them back the ball. So long as you are actually helping matters, it’s all good.

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