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kottke.org posts about sports

A Few Lessons from Roger Federer’s Dartmouth Commencement Speech

Two weeks ago, Roger Federer gave the commencement speech at Dartmouth. After asserting that he’d graduated (and not retired) from professional tennis, Federer shared what he learned from his years on the pro circuit. Some excerpts from the transcript:

“Effortless”… is a myth.

I mean it.

I say that as someone who has heard that word a lot. “Effortless.”

People would say my play was effortless. Most of the time, they meant it as a compliment… But it used to frustrate me when they would say, “He barely broke a sweat!”

Or “Is he even trying?”

The truth is, I had to work very hard… to make it look easy.

I spent years whining… swearing… throwing my racket… before I learned to keep my cool.

The wakeup call came early in my career, when an opponent at the Italian Open publicly questioned my mental discipline. He said, “Roger will be the favorite for the first two hours, and then I’ll be the favorite after that.”

I was puzzled at first. But eventually, I realized what he was trying to say. Everybody can play well the first two hours. You’re fit, you’re fast, you’re clear… and after two hours, your legs get wobbly, your mind starts wandering, and your discipline starts to fade.

It made me understand… I have so much work ahead of me, and I’m ready to go on this journey now. I get it.

On talent:

Yes, talent matters. I’m not going to stand here and tell you it doesn’t.

But talent has a broad definition.

Most of the time, it’s not about having a gift. It’s about having grit.

In tennis, a great forehand with sick racquet head speed can be called a talent.

But in tennis… like in life… discipline is also a talent. And so is patience.

Trusting yourself is a talent. Embracing the process, loving the process, is a talent.

Managing your life, managing yourself… these can be talents, too.

Some people are born with them. Everybody has to work at them.

On “it’s only a point”:

In tennis, perfection is impossible… In the 1,526 singles matches I played in my career, I won almost 80% of those matches… Now, I have a question for all of you… what percentage of the POINTS do you think I won in those matches?

Only 54%.

In other words, even top-ranked tennis players win barely more than half of the points they play.

When you lose every second point, on average, you learn not to dwell on every shot.

You teach yourself to think: OK, I double-faulted. It’s only a point.

OK, I came to the net and I got passed again. It’s only a point.

Even a great shot, an overhead backhand smash that ends up on ESPN’s Top Ten Plays: that, too, is just a point.

Here’s why I am telling you this.

When you’re playing a point, it is the most important thing in the world.

But when it’s behind you, it’s behind you… This mindset is really crucial, because it frees you to fully commit to the next point… and the next one after that… with intensity, clarity and focus.

The truth is, whatever game you play in life… sometimes you’re going to lose. A point, a match, a season, a job… it’s a roller coaster, with many ups and downs.

And it’s natural, when you’re down, to doubt yourself. To feel sorry for yourself.

And by the way, your opponents have self-doubt, too. Don’t ever forget that.

But negative energy is wasted energy.

And “life is bigger than the court”:

I worked a lot, learned a lot, and ran a lot of miles in that small space… But the world is a whole lot bigger than that… Even when I was just starting out, I knew that tennis could show me the world… but tennis could never be the world.

I knew that if I was lucky, maybe I could play competitively until my late 30s. Maybe even… 41!

But even when I was in the top five… it was important to me to have a life… a rewarding life, full of travel, culture, friendships, and especially family… I never abandoned my roots, and I never forgot where I came from… but I also never lost my appetite to see this very big world.

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How Tennis Balls Became Yellow, Feat. David Attenborough

Somehow, I didn’t know that until quite recently, tennis balls were white instead of yellow (Wimbledon used white balls until 1985). Here’s a British PathΓ© film from 1961 that shows how tennis balls were made, along with Wimbledon ball boy training:

I also didn’t know that many people think tennis balls are green when they are actually a color called “optic yellow”. Oh and that David Attenborough had a hand in the switch from white to yellow.

The change in color happened due to the demands of television transmissions. In 1972 television was already in color all over the world (although in Spain it was not generalized until five or six years later). At the end of the 1960s, the person in charge of the BBC broadcasts (which, of course, was in charge of Wimbledon) was the renowned documentary filmmaker David Attenborough. And he noticed that the visibility of the traditional white ball was not perfect, especially if it approached the lines of the rectangle of play.

In that year of 1972, tennis was in full growth: the professional and amateur circuits had unified and women’s professional tennis was also growing. Tennis was becoming a great world spectacle and in this context television was fundamental. The International Tennis Federation, in charge of the rules, commissioned a study which showed that the yellow ball was more visible and therefore easier for viewers to follow. The courts, moreover, began to be multicolored once the use of synthetic materials in official tournaments was approved.

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A Long Surfing Life

I really enjoyed this profile by William Finnegan of 75-year-old Jock Sutherland, who was one of the best surfers in the world in the late 60s and who still cherishes a good wave.

A surfer as famous as he was could have made enough money for an easy retirement, I thought, but Sutherland hadn’t cashed in. Surfing was never, to his mind, a job. Even when he was at the apex of the surfing world, he was unimpressed, stubborn. There was no pro tour in those days. “You could work for a board manufacturer, maybe have your own signature-model board,” he told me. “But that meant sell, sell, sell. That was…crass. I mean, the banality. It was antithetical to being able to enjoy being out in the water.”

Sutherland’s mom, Audrey, sounds like an amazing person:

Audrey drew up a list of things that every child should be able to do by age sixteen and stuck it on the wall. It read, in part:

- Clean a fish and dress a chicken

- Write a business letter

- Splice or put a fixture on an electric cord

- Operate a sewing machine and mend your own clothes

- Handle a boat safely and competently

- Save someone drowning using available equipment

- Read at a tenth grade level

- Listen to an adult talk with interest and empathy

- Dance with any age

This list changed with the times, adding computers and contraception, and nobody really kept score, but everybody got the idea.

Finnegan wrote Barbarian Days, a memoir of his life as a surfer β€” I loved it.

Reply Β· 3

Tintin-Inspired Kits for the Belgian National Football Team

a Belgian football player standing next to a cartoon version of Tintin, each with a blue top and brown short pants

Prior to the men’s UEFA European Championship (aka the 2024 Euros), Belgium announced new kits for their national teams and the away kit is an homage to Tintin and his creator, Belgian cartoonist HergΓ©. Fantastic! (thx, matt)

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“My Bike Is Everything to Me”

a pair of photos of Bill Walton with his bike

Former NBA player and TV sportscaster Bill Walton died on Monday at the age of 71. He was a quirky dude and as someone who’s been known to veer off onto seemingly unrelated tangents, I appreciated his oddball broadcasting style. Basketball was good for Walton but it also ruined his body. In response, he turned to biking to keep active and to get around.

I am the luckiest guy in the world because I am alive and I can ride my bike. It is the ultimate celebration of life when you go out there and are able to do what you can do. I have not been able to play basketball for 34 years. I have not been able to walk for enjoyment or pleasure or exercise in 41 years, but I can ride my bike.

In a brief clip of a talk Walton gave (at the University of Arizona, I believe, the custodian of Biosphere 2), he elaborated on how important his bicycle was to him:

I love my bike. My bike is everything to me. My bike is my gym, my church, and my wheelchair. My bike is everything that I believe in going on in the Biosphere. It’s science, it’s technology, it’s the future, engineering, metallurgy - you name it, it’s right there in my bike. My bike is the most important and valuable thing that I have.

Walton knew: the bicycle is low-key one of humankind’s greatest inventions:

By contrast, a person on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than a pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, a person outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.

As one of the commenters on this post said, “Tailwinds and smooth asphalt forever, buddy.”

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Danny MacAskill Goes Mountain Biking With Friends in Scotland

Danny MacAskill is known ‘round these parts for his jaw-dropping trials riding (I first posted about him 15 years ago) but this ride is a little bit different. MacAskill and four friends take to the local mountain bike trails around Inverness, Scotland on ebikes and have a grand old time. For me, listening to the banter was just as entertaining as watching the riding β€” it’s obvious they’re just out there having a blast.

P.S. I was also trying to calculate how fast I would die if I tried riding some of that stuff and the answer is “almost immediately”. Yiiiikes.

Reply Β· 2

On Sports Parenting

I am a sports parent but have never been the type that lived through the achievements of their kids, but even so, there are parts of Rich Cohen’s The Sad Fate of the Sports Parent I identified with.

The end began like this: One evening, after the last game of the high-school season, I asked my son if he’d be trying out for spring league. For a youth-hockey kid, playing spring league is the equivalent of a minor-league pitcher playing winter ball in Mexico β€” so necessary as a statement of intent and means of improvement that forgoing it is like giving up “the path.” Rather than a simple affirmative nod, as I’d expected, I got these words: “I’m going to think about it.” Think about it? For me, this was the same as a girlfriend saying, “We need to talk.”

Only later did I realize that those words were the first move in a careful choreography. My son wanted to quit, but in a way that would not break my heart. He also didn’t want me to rant and rave and try to talk him out of it.

We had reversed roles. He was the adult. I was the child.

I find the life-long child/parent role-reversal dynamic endlessly fascinating. And also this bit:

He had no inherent genius for the game, but he loved it, and that love, which was his talent, and the corresponding desire to spend every free moment at the facility β€” the life of a rink rat β€” jumping onto the ice whenever an extra player was needed, shooting tape balls in the lobby, made him an asset. A kid can have all the skills, speed, size, and shot, but if he doesn’t want to be there, if he doesn’t love the game, it’s not going to work.

It was passion that got him onto the top teams (this was tier-two and tier-three hockey in Fairfield County, Connecticut) and thus sowed the seed that eventually became, for me, a bitter plant. His love for the game elevated him to the hypercompetitive, goal-fixated ranks, where it’s always about the next tryout and the next season, who will make it and, more important, who will be left behind. Irony: His love for the game had carried him to a level where no love is possible.

Both of my kids are skiers competing on a national level and they are definitely struggling with this β€” how do you balance the genuine love of a sport and competition with the fixation on goals & judging? When is it no longer worth it?

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The Native Youth Olympics

Since the early 70s, the Native Youth Olympics have showcased the traditional games of the Alaska Native people:

Our Alaska Native ancestors developed traditional games in order to test and prove crucial abilities that governed everyday life. Competition was created with each other to hone their ability to hunt and fish for daily survival in the traditional way of life. The creators of the NYO Games wanted an opportunity to demonstrate their favorite traditional Native contests of their forefathers.

I found out about this via a highlight reel on Instagram β€” here’s last year’s competition highlights:

You can check out a list of the competitive events; they include:

  • One-foot High Kick: “In many cultures, the One-Foot High Kick was used for signaling a successful hunt.”
  • Indian Stick Pull: “The Indian Stick Pull represents grabbing a slippery salmon, and was used traditionally to develop hand and arm strength.”
  • Kneel Jump: “Historically, the Kneel Jump was a game used to strengthen the leg muscles for jumping from ice floe to ice floe, and for lifting prey after a successful hunt.”
  • Seal Hop: “The Seal Hop is a variation of the Inuit Knuckle Hop, and used traditionally as a game of endurance and stamina, and for sneaking up on a seal, mimicking the mammal’s movement on the ice.”
  • Two-foot High Kick: “The Two-Foot High Kick was historically used to communicate the success of a spring hunt.”

I love these events. I think my favorite is a reintroduced event for the 2024 games (just concluded): the Toe Kick, which returned after a 10-year hiatus. Here’s how you do it:

Here’s a short documentary about the NYO and athlete Autumn Ridley from 2013 β€” her event is the Alaskan High Kick, perhaps the most impressively athletic event:

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Check In On Those Around You

This is a powerful public service announcement about mental health from Norwich City FC and Samaritans (note the content warning at the start of the video). That’s all I’m going to say about it β€” just watch it.

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Celebrity Marathoners

marathonnumber.jpg

In case anyone saw the news that Lil Nas X ran a half-marathon last weekend and then thought, Hm I wonder if other celebrities have run marathons? (as I did), the answer is: Yes, a lot, and last fall Runners World put together a long list of them, with each of the runners’ times. Shoutout to Bryan Cranston for running a 3:20! πŸ”₯

Elsewhere in marathon news, Romper has a good story about a marathoner recovering from a birth injury. (“I’m losing my mind a little bit.”)

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Wild Ice Skating

an ice skater stands on very clear blue lake ice with mountains in the background

Winter is winding down here in the northern hemisphere (though you wouldn’t know it from the foot of new snow outside my window), but for practitioners of wild ice skating, spring can bring favorable conditions.

But the problem with Nordic skating or any kind of wild skating β€” which is defined as outdoors and on naturally formed ice, regardless of the style of skate used β€” is finding good ice. Wild-ice seekers extol late fall and sometimes spring for freezing conditions without snowfall, which degrades ice.

Instagram is full of amazing videos of wild skating. When they lower the water level in an icy reservoir, you can even go downhill skating.

Listen to the ice on this one! It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite videos that I’ve posted to the site: The Wonderful Sounds of Skating on Black Ice. (thx, caroline)

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All the Ways Mt. Everest Can Kill You

A doctor trained in wilderness emergencies (and who has summited Everest three times) explains all the different ways Mt. Everest can kill you β€” in a refreshingly no-nonsense way.

Mt. Everest is a famously inhospitable environment for humans β€” if someone from sea level was dropped at the very top they’d be unconscious within minutes. Many dangers await those brave enough to make an attempt at the summit, and Dr. Emily Johnston visits WIRED to break down each and every way Mt. Everest can prove fatal.

Avalanches, ice axes on the loose, high-altitude edemas, “this is what people call ‘the death zone’” β€” sounds fun, let’s go! 🫠 (via @thenoodleator)

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The Fledgling Movement to Rewild Golf Courses

an old golf course that's being reclaimed and rewilded

Mark Twain once said: “golf is a good walk spoiled.”1 Some American communities are realizing that a golf course is a good outdoor space spoiled.

A small number of shuttered golf courses around the country have been bought by land trusts, municipalities and nonprofit groups and transformed into nature preserves, parks and wetlands. Among them are sites in Detroit, Pennsylvania, Colorado, the Finger Lakes of upstate New York, and at least four in California.

“We quickly recognized the high restoration value, the conservation value, and the public access recreational value,” said Guillermo Rodriguez, California state director with the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, which bought the San Geronimo course, in Marin County, for $8.9 million in 2018 and renamed it San Geronimo Commons.

The article also shares this startling fact: “The United States has more golf courses than McDonald’s locations.” WAT.

  1. Yeah, he probably didn’t.
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Chasing Impossible Dreams

YouTuber Casey Neistat has achieved a lot in life, including several “impossible goals” he set for himself. But one of his longest-running goals seemed to be slipping out of his reach and, well, I don’t want to spoil what happens.

I will say however that I think it’s good and healthy to let go of your goals and dreams if they do not serve the person you have become since setting them. I’ve never been much of a goal person, but I’ve definitely had thoughts about directions I’ve wanted to head or things I’d like to have had happen that just aren’t relevant for what’s important to me right now. If it’s not working for you, chalk it up to sunk cost and let it go.

I got this link via Andy, who said, “I allow myself one link to a Casey Neistat video every ten years, and this is that video.” Lol.

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Which One Wins? LeBron’s Brain or His Body?

Yesterday on her Instagram story, cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky posted a short clip of a lecture in which she posed an intriguing question: if she switched brains with LeBron James, which of them would win in a 1-on-1 game? Some relevant facts: LeBron is 6’8”, 250 pounds, a 4-time NBA champion, 19-time All-Star, 4-time league MVP, and is the all-time NBA points leader. He also possesses a singular basketball mind:

“I can usually remember plays in situations a couple of years back β€” quite a few years back sometimes,” James says. “I’m able to calibrate them throughout a game to the situation I’m in, to know who has it going on our team, what position to put him in.

“I’m lucky to have a photographic memory,” he will add, “and to have learned how to work with it.”

Boroditsky is 5’3”, 105 pounds, and by her own admission knows nothing about basketball and has “no hops”. So who would win? Boroditsky’s body with LeBron’s brain or LeBron’s body with Boroditsky’s brain? And why?

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How Large Before It Goes In?

One of the best uses of technology is to make people laugh. In this three-part series, the Numerical YouTube channels uses some simple editing to increase the size of the goal until some laughably off-the-mark strikes by professional footballers Ousmane DembΓ©lΓ©, Harry Kane (his penalty miss vs France), and Nicolas Jackson finally find their targets. The misses just get more and more funny as the goal gets bigger.


Disney+ to Air a Real-Time Toy Story Version of an NFL Game

This is pretty clever actually: Disney+ and ESPN+ will air a real-time, Toy Story-ified version of the Oct 1st Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons NFL game. From Deadline:

Using the NFL’s Next Gen Stats and on-field tracking data, every player and play will be presented in “Andy’s Room,” the familiar, brightly colored setting for the Toy Story franchise. The action will be virtually simultaneous with the main game telecast, with most plays recreated after an expected delay in the neighborhood of about 30 seconds. Woody, Buzz Lightyear and many other characters will be visible throughout, and a press release notes they will be “participating from the sidelines and in other non-gameplay elements.” Along with game action, the announcers, graphics, scoreboard, referees’ penalty announcements, celebrations and other parts of the experience will all be rendered in a Toy Story-centric fashion.

I stopped watching the NFL years ago, but I might tune in to see how this works.


The Tenderness of Marshawn Lynch

For the role of a teacher/coach in her new film Bottoms (about a pair of queer girls who start a fight club in their high school in order to get laid), director Emma Seligman made the unorthodox decision to cast former NFL player Marshawn Lynch. It turned out to be an inspired choice β€” according to an interview with Seligman, he was a natural.

He was one of the best improvisers I’ve ever worked with. I’m not overstating that. He improvised most of his stuff in the movie that ended up in the final cut! We couldn’t ever write something that would be as funny as what he gave us. He’d spew out the most brilliant jokes ever. I kept on encouraging him to do more improv. He’d be like, “Ugh, that stuff’s easy! I wanna get your words right!” I told him that it was so much better than anything we could have written and he was like, “I don’t care about this. I want to honor your work.” I’m so glad I got to talk about him this much.

Here’s a short clip of Lynch doing his thing as Mr. G, “an air-headed high school teacher”:

Lynch also used the film as an opportunity to make some amends for how he reacted when his sister came out as queer:

This was a good opportunity for me because when I was in high school, my sister had came out as being a lesbian or gay β€” I did not handle it right. You feel me, as a 16-year-old boy, I didn’t handle it the way that I feel like I probably should have. So I told [Seligman] it was giving me an opportunity to correct my wrongs, to rewrite one of my mistakes.

From that interview with Seligman again:

In our first conversation, he told me that his sister is queer and when they were in high school, he didn’t necessarily handle it super well. He felt like this movie coming into his hands was the universe giving him a chance to right his wrongs. That’s what he said. He walked her down the aisle. He felt like they were all good, you know? But his sister thought it’d be really cool if he did this.

If you have never seen this old interview with Lynch about the value of persistence, buckle up because you’re in for a treat:


How the Race Was Won

a composite image of a 110-meter hurdles race at the 2023 world championships

What an amazing, info-dense composite photograph taken by Casey Sims of the semi-finals of the men’s 110-meter hurdles at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest from last month. You can see and analyze the entire race, just from this one image. Eventual finals winner Grant Holloway is in lane 5 and led from start to finish.


Fighting Inequality Through Softball: Maya Women Make a League of Their Own

Oh, this is delightful: a short documentary about a group of Mayan women in the tiny town of Hondzonot in the Yucatan peninsula who formed a softball team called Las Diablillas (Little Devils).

As a girl, Ay Ay loved playing sports at school. But, when she asked her parents’ permission to go out and play after school, they would say no β€” that only boys could do so. The custom in Hondzonot was that girls would stay busy inside, get married (some as young as twelve or thirteen), and have a family. Ay Ay always thought differently, she told me, but she had no choice but to obey her parents, and later her husband. One day, a mobile health unit came to town, and the doctor taught some local women to play softball with a wooden stick and a tennis ball, as a way to combat the risks of diabetes and hypertension. After the doctor left, the women kept playing, and the health benefits of the sport eased the community stigma. Little by little, Ay Ay asked permission from her husband to go out every day. “I felt it was necessary. I wanted to distract myself,” she told Fajardo, “from the routine at home.”

The women purposely wear the traditional huipil tunic as their uniform and play with an infectious spirit of camaraderie. Major League Baseball made their own short documentary about Las Diablillas:

“The question isn’t, ‘Who will give me permission?’ It’s, ‘Who’s going to stop me?’” says Geimi Santa Ofelia May Dzib, the team’s left fielder, in the opening scenes of MLB Originals’ latest short film, “Las Diablillas,” which explores how these women have found empowerment through sport.

The NY Times also published a piece about the team a few years ago:

“Here a woman serves the home and is not supposed to go out and play sports,” said Fabiola May Chulim, the team captain and manager of the Little Devils, known here as Las Diablillas, their name in Spanish. “When a woman marries, she’s supposed to do chores and attend to her husband and kids. We decided a few years ago that’s not going to impede us anymore from playing a sport when we want.”


Watch Alexey Molchanov’s World Record Freedives

Alexey Molchanov, one of the best freedivers of all time, recently set two new world records at a competition at Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas:

  • An FIM dive that took 4m 42s and went to a depth of 133 meters (442 feet). Molchanov pulled himself down and up using a guide rope without fins.
  • A CWT dive that took 4m 13s and went to a depth of 133 meters (442 feet). CWT is when the diver uses a monofin and weight belt to dive and return to the surface.

His complete record-breaking dives are embedded above and are completely suspenseful to watch even though you know the outcome. They’re almost like watching someone meditate instead of compete in an extreme sport. Molchanov needs to expend some energy and oxygen getting down and back, but also can’t over-exert himself. A lot of it is just being relaxed and calm β€” this is truly a mind-over-matter discipline.

I’ve written about Molchanov before,1 riffing off of this profile of him in GQ.

When Alexey was younger, his mother, Natalia Molchanova, was the world’s best freediver, a distinction that she held for many years. She was a pioneer in the sport and the practitioner of a mind-and-body-control technique called “attention deconcentration.” She passed her secrets to her son, who perfected them and uses the regimen to reach a state of intense calm. By doing so, he can slow his heart rate, his metabolic rate, while simultaneously slowing the activity of his brain and his body. His focus deepens. He relaxes to the point of seeming asleep. He takes deep, drowsy breaths, like a summer breeze filling a sail.

I will never not be fascinated by freediving.

  1. And his mother Natalia, who was probably the best freediver ever and taught Alexey how. Natalia disappeared while diving in 2015 and is presumed dead.


Copa 71 β€” the First Unofficial Women’s World Cup

Produced by Venus & Serena Williams and US soccer star Alex Morgan and directed by Rachel Ramsay & James Erskine, Copa 71 is a forthcoming documentary about a women’s soccer tournament that took place in Mexico City in 1971 that was the first, albeit unofficial, Women’s World Cup. A short teaser trailer is above. From a piece in Variety about the film:

In August 1971, more than 100,000 football fans packed Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium for a historic tournament. Teams from England, France, Denmark, Argentina and Italy flew in for 21 days of matches alongside Mexico’s national team, while eager sponsors lined up for a piece of the action. The players, who received a hero’s welcome wherever they went, might as well have been the Rolling Stones.

They were, in fact, a group of around 100 women β€” many of them teenagers β€” taking part in a pioneering unofficial Women’s World Cup. And just as quickly as they tasted fame, it was snatched away as the tournament was all but erased from football history.

Many of the competitors were just teenagers β€” from Wikipedia:

England’s team included 13-year-old Leah Caleb, 14-year-old Gill Sayell, and 15-year-old Chris Lockwood; their captain was 19-year-old Carol Wilson and they were accompanied by referee Pat Dunn as a chaperone and trainer. 15-year-old Susanne Augustesen scored a hat-trick for Denmark as they beat Mexico 3-0 in the final.

Copa 71 is premiering at the Toronto Film Festival in September and then hopefully will find its way into theaters and onto streaming. (thx, meg)


The Weirdest and Most Chaotic Soccer Match Ever

In the 1994 Caribbean Cup qualifying group stage match between Barbados and Grenada, the 90 minutes of normal time ended with an intentional own goal by Barbados and then with Grenada trying to score either a goal or an own goal and Barbados defending both nets. Say what?! How did this happen?

Well, it was the confluence of a few things:

  1. The match would go into overtime in case of a tie.
  2. The “golden goal” rule was in effect for overtime…the first goal wins and the match is immediately over. Oh, and the goal is worth 2 goals, not just one.
  3. To qualify for the next round, Barbados not only needed to win the match, they needed to win it by two goals…a one-goal difference would not be enough.

I found out about the match by reading this SBNation article but Wikipedia does a better job in clearly explaining why that combination of factors resulted in chaos:

The match started off routinely and Barbados scored the first two goals, establishing the two-goal winning margin they required: in the 83rd minute, the game changed when Grenada scored a goal, which would take Grenada through to the finals unless Barbados could score again.

Barbados attempted to score for the next few minutes, but as time ran out they switched to a different strategy: tying the game so they could attempt to achieve the two-goal margin with the golden goal in extra-time. In the 87th minute, they stopped attacking, with Barbados defender Terry Sealey and goalkeeper Horace Stoute passing the ball between each other before Sealey intentionally scored an own goal to tie the game at 2-2.

With just three minutes of normal time left, the Grenadian players caught on to the Barbadians’ plan, and realised that they would advance in the tournament by scoring a goal in either net, since they would still qualify for the finals with a 1-goal loss. This saw normal time finish in a highly unusual manner, with Grenada trying to score a goal in (and Barbados trying to defend) both nets. For the next three minutes, Barbadian players successfully defended both sides.

As 90 minutes had expired with the score at 2-2, the game went on to extra time, where the winning “golden goal” would count double β€” thus, Barbados only had to score once to qualify for the 1994 Caribbean Cup. Trevor Thorne scored the winning goal for Barbados to advance to the next round with a score of 4-2.


Amateurs Reached America’s Highest Peak First. Nobody Believed Them.

In 1910, a group of inexperienced climbers claimed to have summited Denali, the highest peak in what is now the United States. Their story was greeted with skepticism.

So when I found out that the first people to reach the highest point in North America (Denali, the mountain formerly known as McKinley) were just a bunch of Average Joes with no climbing experience who went up on a bet, I was flabbergasted. How had I never heard this story? The more I looked into it, the more fantastic the story became. When these guys descended from the mountain, nobody believed they really even made it. And they wouldn’t be the first people to fraudulently claim to have reached the top, with no evidence to offer that they succeeded. This story has all the makings of a blockbuster action comedy. It’s almost unbelievable.

But later evidence suggests that they just might have made it to the top.


Forgetting How to Be Yourself

For the New Yorker, Louisa Thomas on major league pitcher Daniel Bard, who has struggled with the yips on and off during his career.

Many baseball players have minor control issues at one point or another. Sometimes it happens after an injury, when a player is relearning how to throw, over-attending to discrete motions that used to feel fluid and natural. “Overthinking” is the simple way to put it: the brain’s prefrontal cortex trips up the sensory cortex and the motor cortex. In other cases, the mind can essentially go blank. Players usually snap out of it, the way Bard had years before. But the brain can get stuck in certain patterns, and the yips can take over in a way that no one fully understands.

I used to write quite a bit about the sort of practiced autopilot that’s necessary to perform at a high level and what happens when the wheels come off the wagon and you start overthinking and second-guessing. From a 2021 post about Simone Biles’ case of the twisties:

This phenomenon goes by many names β€” performance anxiety, stage fright, choking, the yips, cueitis (in snooker), and target panic (for archers) - and the world-class are not immune. Daniel Day-Lewis had stage fright so bad he quit the stage decades ago β€” an affliction he shared with Laurence Olivier, Barbra Streisand, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. If you’ve read anything at all about this stuff, Biles’ case of the twisties doesn’t seem so unusual or mysterious β€” it’s just one of those things that makes her, and the rest of us, human.

Back to Bard, who tried a bunch of different fixes for his pitching problems:

Once Bard acknowledged the problem, he tried every available fix. He met with sports psychologists; he saw a hypnotist; he meditated. He whispered mantras, which he found counterproductive β€” athletes “don’t think in words, we think in shapes, feelings, and visions,” he told me. He had a rib removed, to help with the blood-flow problem caused by thoracic-outlet syndrome. He tried different arm slots. Adair posted inspirational messages around their house. At one point, she and Bard drove to a Holiday Inn to meet a woman who used eye-movement therapy to treat soldiers with P.T.S.D. Bard also tried a technique called tapping: you tap your fingers on certain places on your head, in a certain order, to reframe traumatic memories. It didn’t work.

I don’t know if anyone else has felt like this, but I think I might have the yips β€” not for a sport but for my life. I feel like I have forgotten how to naturally be myself. My preferences, what I enjoy doing, what I think about certain things, how I feel, how I feel about how I feel β€” it all feels forced right now, overthinking and second-guessing galore. What Would Jason Do? The hell if I know…but I do know that if you’re asking yourself what you would do in a certain situation instead of just doing it, you’ve already lost.

Like Bard, I’ve tried a bunch of different things recently to fix this, to seemingly little avail. Perhaps thinking about it as the yips but for my life will help me address it?


Microsoft Excel Esports?

Microsoft Excel is an extremely powerful, complex, and useful software program that millions of people know how to use, at least a little bit. For those who are experts, there are now esports competitions in Microsoft Excel that pit the best spreadsheet jockeys against each other. Here’s what that looks like:

It’s….a little confusing to watch if you aren’t that good at Excel yourself. From a piece in the Atlantic late last year:

Yes, we are talking about people competing in Microsoft Excel, the famous (and famously boring) spreadsheet software that you may have used in school or at work or to track your finances. In competitive Excel, players square off in test-taking showdowns, earning points each time they answer a question correctly. Players’ screens are a whirlwind of columns and keystrokes and formulae; if the terms XLOOKUP, RANDBETWEEN, and dynamic array don’t mean anything to you, you are unlikely to understand what’s going on. The commentators help, but only to a point. Even so, you can always follow the scoreboard, which tends to change suddenly and drastically. With just over three minutes to play, Ngai nailed a set of questions and jumped out to a 416-390 lead. GolferMike1 began to rethink his earlier assessment: “Uh oh. We got a game.”

There’s a pretty good explanation of what some of the challenges are like starting at the 6-minute mark in this video:

If you’d like more information, check out the Microsoft Excel World Championship for 2023 β€” the finals are in Las Vegas this year, they’re gonna show it on one of ESPN’s channels, and there’s more than $15,000 in prize money at stake.


The Impossible Job of Refereeing

From William Ralston in The Guardian, a long read on “the impossible job” of being a Premier League referee.

No one disputes that referees are as fit as they’ve ever been. The problem, according to many observers, is that referees are also worse than they’ve ever been. In 2017, then-Arsenal manager ArsΓ¨ne Wenger claimed that English referees’ level “drops every season”. The next season, Cardiff manager Neil Warnock despaired at how the “best league in the world” could possibly have “the worst officials”.

Today, that story of perpetual decline has given way to one of full-blown crisis. Every week brings a new wave of anger β€” from fans, players, managers and pundits β€” about alleged errors, inconsistencies and incompetence. This is at the polite end of the spectrum. On social media, referees’ mistakes are often blamed not on inevitable human error, or even simple ineptitude, but on elaborate conspiracies to derail this or that club. (The fact that every fanbase believes there is a conspiracy against their particular club does not seem to give people pause.)

There is no statistical evidence to support this story of decline. In fact, all such evidence suggests that referees are making fewer mistakes a match, with accuracy rising each season. (However, these statistics themselves are difficult to assess, given that they are collected not by a truly independent body, but by PGMOL and the Premier League, and very little of this data has ever been made public.) Instead, the critics point to a large, often indisputable, collection of individual errors and baffling decisions. These errors amount to only a tiny percentage of all decisions, but having been replayed and discussed over and over, they are the ones etched into memory.

In season one of his podcast Against the Rules, Michael Lewis explored the disconnect between how referees are perceived and their actual performance, not just in sports but also in governance, business, and even the arts.

There are interesting bits throughout the piece, many of which deal with human psychology (esp. of groups) and even philosophy. I found this bit worth quoting:

On the next day I spent with England, 5 November, he was refereeing the champions, Manchester City, at home to Fulham. In a room at a swanky hotel on the outskirts of Manchester, England and his team gathered for their pre-match meeting. His usual assistants had been replaced, because they support Manchester clubs. (Every official must declare their allegiances, and will not be assigned that team’s matches or those of their closest rivals. Other factors that determine appointments include how many times an official has refereed each club that season, how close they live to the stadium, and which teams their family members support.)

Fascinating! Do any of the sports leagues in the US do this? Or is, as I suspect, the support for one’s team in England just so much more intense and foundational to one’s personal identity than in America?


Augmented Reality Ski Goggles

The other day on the chair lift, my kids and I were talking about our top skiing speeds (me: low 40s, them: 50+) and one of us mentioned that it would be cool if your current speed was shown on a heads-up display in your goggles. So this morning I went looking for AR ski goggles and of course they exist. Here are a pair of demo videos from Sirius (made by Oostloong) and Rekkie.

These googles include features like real-time speed, clock, temperature, friend finding/tracking, wayfinding (directions, compass, elevation), HD recording, and phone notifications. Skiing is a natural use for AR β€” you’re wearing the bulky goggles for safety anyway, so you can hide all the necessary tech in there without looking ridiculous, and taking your mittens on and off to check the time or send/read texts is annoying.

I’d love to try some of these, to see how the interface and notifications work β€” I worry that it would be unsafe because it requires too much of the skier’s attention. Being on anything but the bunniest slopes with people who are reading text messages and clocking their speed as they’re skiing is not something I’d be into β€” the idiots with the GoPros on selfie sticks are bad enough. I’m also skeptical that the electronics and control buttons on these devices will be able to withstand the beating that ski goggles undergo over the course of a season, especially if they’re subjected to any skiing in the woods. If they could get it right though, I could see these being fun and useful.


Football Is Forbidden

A beautiful scene from the 2014 Mauritanian film Timbuktu (which was recently included on Slate’s New Black Film Canon), in which young men under the rule of Islamic extremists quietly and defiantly play a forbidden football match with an imaginary ball. (thx, caroline)


The Greatest Unexpected NBA Performances

Ok this video from The Pudding is cool for two different reasons. First, you learn about which NBA player had the most unexpectedly great performance since 1985 (e.g. when a guy who is usually good for 6-8 pts inexplicably drops 50). But, you also get a fun little tutorial in how statistical analysis works and the importance of paying attention to the right data in order to get an answer that’s actually meaningful and relevant. How to interpret data in this way is an under-appreciated aspect in the bombardment of data and statistics we see in the media these days and teaching more people about it doesn’t have to be boring or stuffy.

The Pudding also sets an example here by working in the open: the data they used for their analysis is available on Github.