Friday, March 26, 2010

The Nerd and the Jock

In this month's tactical column I would like to address the sticky subject of sports psychology. Croquet is an addictive game because of its complexity and confluence of different skills. A straight shooter can easily be undone with a few bad decisions, while a great strategist can often fail to execute her best laid plans. Conversely, a clever player can plan around his compromised accuracy and a fortunate player can shoot her way out of a bad line of play. It is this balance of tactics and technique that enthralls us.

But how do we reconcile these two different skills? How can we foster these twin processes and allow them to complement one another in a tense game situation? We must separate our single mindedness into two identities - we need to create a Nerd and a Jock.

The beginning of any turn involves an overall assessment of the situation. Our tactical nature must emerge and come up with a game plan involving an intricate understanding of risk versus reward; this is the Nerd.
The Nerd has memorized the shooting statistics, the pace of the game, the offensive opportunities, and even the wind shear. The Nerd will analyze the options and come up with plans A through Z in a dense decision tree based upon the success and failure of the next 27 shots. At this point, however, the Nerd needs to go sit down. All too often, players miss easy shots and say “I was just thinking about what to do next,” or “I was so worried about the danger ball, I was distracted.” This is a prime example of allowing the Nerd to take your shot. The Nerd is very good at tactical concerns, but it's a bench-warmer for a reason. After deciding on the appropriate line of play, the player must switch his or her concern to the execution and not the strategy. Now it is time to become the Jock.

The Nerd and the Jacques

The Jock is the designated hitter. All shooting practice and “in the zone” playing experiences are in the Jock's domain. When the player brings out the Jock, she does not think about why she must take this shot, only how to make it. The decision is made and the player must concentrate on aiming and producing that perfect swing that only the Jock can make. This produces an acceptance of the circumstances; the Jock trusts that the Nerd did its job, and executes without worrying about why.

This division of labor allows for a deeper concentration and improved focus on the task at hand. Separating the anxious, worrisome strategist from the pure shooter allows for a calmer state of mind. With this clarity of mind a player can bring on a “flow” state and begin to shoot more accurately and more precisely as if the shot selection was made by a coach. The designated hitter takes his or her signals from the batting coach, which allows the player to focus on swinging away.
When a decision needs to be made, step out of the batter's box and consult the Nerd. Once the choice has been made, swing for the fences.

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