Constantly in life we find that people love to pigeon hole or label things. Everything has a place and should be boxed accordingly. Sport is a prime example of where tradition and innovation sometimes have a hard time getting on. While there has been many breakthroughs in sport using science and innovation (think Moneyball and swimming), there are equally a lot of stories where tradition has triumphed over change.
And so it would seem that there are two trains of thought in sport.
One, each sport is unique and they have their own way of doing things and therefore can't change or be interchanged. Or two, all sports share similar principles and therefore each sport can learn from the other.
I'm a big believer in the latter. Especially when you start applying science to the different techniques used in every sport. And while science has been a part of sport since the introduction of the stop watch (perhaps even earlier), it doesn't always go hand in hand (no pun intended, I think). So when I came across a video on Facebook that demonstrated the science of one sport being used in another, I was intrigued.
Playing on the Hop
The video was created by Auburn University's softball team and in it they discuss a new defensive technique called the 'hop'. Auburn's Softball Head Coach Clint Myers, explains in the video why the teams management and coaching staff liked the new fielding technique. But more interestingly, he explains further as to where they 'stole' the idea from. The hop as he explains was taken (stolen) from tennis.
In tennis, the hop is actually called a split step. The split step is crucial to a tennis player as it allows them to move in any direction – forward, backwards, left or right, in a fraction of
a second as their opponent is returning or serving the ball. Professional tennis players and coaches have been using the split step for a long time now as they explicitly understand the edge it gives a player in perfecting it.
Using a Growth mindset
Myers recognised that the split step technique could be extremely beneficial also to softball as it enabled the infielder to 'eliminate any false move and be able to move faster to the ball'. Dr Wendi Weimar, Associate Professor and the Director of the Sport Biomechanics Laboratory in the School of Kinesiology at Auburn University, is also interviewed in the video and explains the science behind the 'hop' and why it is important. (Warning there are a few sciencey words in the video below but Im sure you will be fine.)
Myers insight into how the split step could be used in softball seems to have paid off. Since employing the hop in regular play, the Auburn Softball team has now become one of the best defensive teams in their League.
And while doing further research on the story, I came across an article in 'College Baseball Daily' that asked the question "Should Auburn Softball Defensive Hop be used in Baseball?" The article points out that the Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has been known to do a similar type of hop. And interestingly, the comments to article all refer back to the split step in tennis. So it would seem using a growth mindset in sport isn't completely unusual or foreign. He's some more evidence.
It's just not Cricket
Famously (in Australia) the biggest break through in Australian sport came when Mike Young, an American minor league baseball player and coach was appointed as the Australian Cricket teams fielding coach in 2000. Up until then, fielding had long been an under-developed aspect of cricket, as teams mainly concentrated on developing bowlers and batsmen. The Australia Cricket Board recognised that fielding was a central part of baseball and wanted Young to coach their players on catching, throwing and positioning. This in itself was a revolution.
Baseball has always been considered to be an american sport and has nothing to do with cricket. So to employ an american baseball coach to train our cricketers in throwing and fielding was complete (sporting) blasphemy. But as any honest purist would admit, throwing in cricket was quite pedestrian compared to baseball. With long loopy throws back to the keeper or bowler, a batsmen usually had more than enough time to complete a run safely because of the very nature and style of throwing cricketers employed. Any other way (to throw) just wasn't cricket. Or so it was thought.
However, Young disrupted this thinking and taught the Australian Cricket side how to throw and field baseball style. And during Young's tenure, the Australian Cricket team's fielding dramatically improved. They became world renowned and became feared for their fielding prowess. Fielding now joins batting and bowling as a must have ability for any young player wanting to compete at the highest level. In fact, Young's baseball influence and impact was so profound that Australia almost lost one of it's greatest bowlers at the time, Brett Lee to baseball. (Not that this was Young's intention).
Switching codes: from wicket to mound
In 2003, Lee was invited by the Arizona Diamondbacks to a trial as they were keen to determine whether Lee’s ability to bowl a cricket ball at 160km/h would translate to the pitcher’s mound. Turns out it did. Lee was clocked (using a radar gun) throwing in the early to mid-90s (miles per hour) or 145 to 153km/h using the metric system. To put that in perspective, the top pitchers today throw around the 95-100 m/ph mark, so Lee would have been quite at home on the mound in baseball. However, his passion and desire to represent Australia in Cricket outweighed his (latent) natural ability as a baseball pitcher.
But there is no doubt whatsoever the effect baseball (throwing and fielding techniques) has had on Cricket around the world. Every professional cricket player today around the world throws flat and hard from anywhere in the field. As they know that the less time or opportunity a batsmen has to score a run, the better. No longer is there a place for the long loopy throw from the outfield. Long hops (where the ball is thrown low and fast and bounces once back to the receiver) or in some cases, low and flat throws on the full is the preferred method for all players when throwing from the boundary.
Lessons from a growth mindset
Not everything can cross over or be applicable in other sports. But the key is to develop a mindset that allows for all possibilities. This is a growth mindset. It's the ability to be able to challenge the status quo based on sound science and reasoning and not just through obstinance.
The lessons from using innovation, science and a growth mindset in sport has paid dividends to those that have dared to challenge the traditional way of doing things. Moneyball is a great example of this. In 2002, the Oakland A's' Major League baseball Club took advantage of more analytical gauges (sabermetrics) of player performances to field a team that could better compete against richer competitors in Major League Baseball (MLB).
In other words, they discarded the traditional method of selecting and recruiting players and looked to choose players that got on base more either through hitting or walking. And it worked. While they didn't win the World Series that year they did create a MLB AL record with 20 consecutive wins in a season. The previous record was held by the NY Yankees with 19 consecutive wins in 1947. Eventually, other Clubs started using a similar system and using sabermetrics has now become the norm when selecting and recruiting players in MLB. But it took a courageous team to do it first.
But these lessons can extend to all areas of our life and work. When we look outside the constraints of our thinking or our cognitive bias (occupational or fixed thinking) we can start to grow and change our position and outcomes for the better.