Category: Sports

Which system should be redesigned from scratch?

Here is another question I didn’t get to answer from last night:

Your blog talks about making small marginal improvements, but if you could redesign one system entirely from scratch, which one would it be, and how would it look compared to what is currently in place?

One answer would be “blogging, I would have much more of it.”  But my main answer would be higher education, especially those tiers below the top elite universities.  Completion rates are astonishingly low, and also not very transparent (maybe about 40 percent?).  I would ensure that every single student receives a reasonable amount of one-on-one tutoring and/or mentoring in his or her first two years.  In return, along budgetary lines, I would sacrifice whatever else needs to go, in order to assure that end.  If we’re all standing around in robes, arguing philosophy under the proverbial painted porch, so be it.  At the same time, I would boost science funding at the top end.

I also would experiment with abolishing the idea of degree “completion” altogether.  Maybe you simply finish with an “assessment,” or rather you never quite finish at all, since you might return to take a class when you are 43.  Why cannot this space be more finely grained, especially in an age of information technology?

At lower ages, I would do everything possible to move away from having all of the children belong to the exact same age group.  The Boy Scouts are a better model here than “the 7th grade.”

The NBA is one institution that I feel is working really well at the moment. and I don’t just say that because I root for Golden State.  Though that doesn’t hurt any, either.

Trampoline question

I gave a talk yesterday, and did not have time to get to this question, from Eric S., which we discussed during the dinner hour:

Who could launch themselves higher on a trampoline? LeBron James or Simone Biles?

She is a world class female gymnast, and much lighter (and less strong) than LeBron.  The question is assuming that both parties are motivated to win the competition, and have sufficient time to train to achieve their maximum potential in the contest.

Ultimately I settled on Simone as the better answer, mumbling something about small ants being very powerful for their size, and that magnification and extension of muscle spans ends up producing problematic results.  The power gain from the extra weight might be more than offset by the “drag” loss on the way up.  But I genuinely do not know.  Your view?

Addendum: This is an interesting article on animals and elastic springs.  And Jason Kottke adds comment, amazing photo too.

Washington Metro Qatar markets in everything

Metro significantly relaxed its policies on extended hours for the Washington Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, including extending service for Thursday night’s series win without ever planning for any cash to change hands, WTOP has learned.

Since last summer, Metro has required a $100,000 deposit for each additional hour of service, and Metro suggested Wednesday that the Capitals’ parent company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, would cover those costs for Thursday night’s game.

In fact, Thursday night’s extended service was part of a trade between the Caps and Metro that Metro valued at $100,000, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said in an email…

Revised requirements issued last year normally call for the $100,000 deposit two weeks ahead of an event for each extra hour of service. Instead, Metro is billing each of the other groups that agreed to pay for the extended service for Capitals playoff games after the fact, Stessel said…

The bills being sent to those other groups — Qatar (via the Downtown BID), Comcast and Uber — will already include the discount for any fares paid during extended hours of service.

Here is the bizarre story, via Bruce Arthur.  For those of you who don’t get the joke, the D.C. Metro system shuts down too early relative to when many sporting events are likely to end.

Elite competitors live longer, even in chess

The survival rates of GMs at 30 and 60 years since GM title achievement were 87% and 15%, respectively. The life expectancy of GMs at the age of 30 years (which is near the average age when they attained a GM title) was 53.6 ([95% CI]: 47.7–58.5) years, which is significantly greater than the overall weighted mean life expectancy of 45.9 years for the general population. Compared to Eastern Europe, GMs in North America (HR [95% CI]: 0.51 [0.29–0.88]) and Western Europe (HR [95% CI]: 0.53 [0.34–0.83]) had a longer lifespan. The RS analysis showed that both GMs and OMs had a significant survival advantage over the general population, and there was no statistically significant difference in the RS of GMs (RS [95% CI]: 1.14 [1.08–1.20]) compared to OMs: (RS [95% CI]: 1.09 [1.07–1.11]) at 30 years.

Elite chess players live longer than the general population and have a similar survival advantage to elite competitors in physical sports.

That is from An Tran-Duy, David C. Smerdon, and Philip M. Clarke, via a loyal MR reader.

The culture that is Arlington youth soccer

The Arlington Soccer Association is asking parents to pipe down this weekend, scheduling a day of “silent soccer” for its recreational league.

Managers of the 6,000-member league are encouraging parents and other spectators to refrain from cheering and offer their support silently on Saturday (May 12) for teams with players ranging from second grade through high school.

Dan Ferguson, ASA’s recreational soccer director, says fans of kids in kindergarten and first grade will still be able to cheer as loud as they’d like this weekend. But, for the rest of the league’s teams, he’s hoping to give players a bit of a break from the constant feedback they receive from the sidelines.

“It’s a reminder to adults that kids don’t need constant instruction to be able to play the game,” Ferguson told ARLnow. “Sometimes parents feel like their kids are lost when we do this, but we try to tell them: ‘That’s okay.’ We’re not really here for the wins and losses.”

Ferguson says ASA has been holding “silent soccer” days on Mother’s Day weekend for at least the last six or seven years, and he’s consistently gotten positive feedback from coaches and parents about the event. In fact, he says some coaches continue to ask spectators to keep quiet even after the weekend is over.

“The overwhelming reaction is the kids seem to enjoy it,” Ferguson said. “They can actually hear each other talk on the field, communicating with their teammates and giving them instructions.”

Here is the full article, and for the pointer I thank Bruce Arthur.  Via Steve Rossi, here is a related and more general post.

Superstars in the NBA playoffs, and the heightening of income inequality

Perhaps you have noticed that the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans swept the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in four games straight.  A month or two ago, it was not entirely obvious that the Pelicans would make the playoffs at all.  And all 22 ESPN analysts picked the Pelicans to lose the series.

The simplest theory about the Pelicans performance is that they have two superstars, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.  But while Portland was thought of as the superior team, they don’t have any player with the power and dynamism of Anthony Davis, whom I and many others consider to be a transcendent superstar.

One possible theory is this: an NBA series today is very well scouted and analyzed, and the players watch lots of tape.  Adjustments are made each game or even each quarter, based on a quantitative analysis of what is working and what is not.  This neutralizes many of the strategies of the lesser players, and furthermore having a good bench is worth less when it is easier to concentrate more of the minutes in the very best players.  It is not however possible to neutralize the impact of a transcendental superstar, even with lots of advance planning.  Those truly top players can improvise around any defenses thrown at them, or on the defensive end they can rapidly adjust to counter a new offensive attack.

Furthermore, in the playoffs effort is more or less equalized, as suddenly everyone is trying, even the bench players on the road.  That too raises the relative return to top talent.

In the playoffs, it is thus plausible that the quality and value of the transcendent superstars goes up.

As more and more of contemporary business becomes regularized and measured and motivated and based on well-ordered cooperating teams, might the same be true for the transcendent superstars of that world as well?  In essence, we’re always in the business “playoffs” these days, at least in Manhattan and Silicon Valley, and their transcendent superstars also become the difference-makers.

I do not seek to argue that is the main cause behind rising income inequaliity, but might it be one factor?

Of course my dream series for the finals is New Orleans vs. Philadelphia (Ben Simmons, Joel “built for…playoff basketball” Embiid.  That is hardly the most likely outcome, but it is now looking a lot more possible than one might have thought.  Philly, by the way, is the “all time hottest team entering the NBA playoffs,” at least by one measure.

Dulles Amazon northern Virginia cricket fact of the day

Loudoun County’s growth over the past three decades has been driven in part by Asian Americans, who have flocked there to work for AOL and other tech companies that have set up shop in the area. Today 18 percent of the district’s residents are Asian American. Nearly half of those are Indian American; between 1990 and 2010, the number of Indian Americans in the county grew by a factor of fifty. Drive past a park on a summer evening, and you’ll see cricket matches under way—the Loudoun County Cricket League has forty-eight teams and more than 1,200 players.

Here is more, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

*The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer’s Next Superstars*

I found this book by Sebastian Abbot very stimulating, though I wished for a more social-scientific treatment.  The focus is on Africa, here is one bit on the more conceptual side:

But focusing on a young player’s technique still tells a scout relatively little about whether the kid will reach the top level, even when the observations are paired with physical measures of speed and agility.  A study published in 2016 looked at the results from a battery of five tests conducted by the German soccer federation on over 20,000 of the top Under-12 players in the country.  The tests measured speed, agility, dribbling, passing, and shooting.  The researchers assessed the utility of the tests in determining how high the kids would progress once they reached the Under-16 to Under-19 level.  The study found that players who scored in the 99th percentile or higher in the tests still only had a 6 percent chance of making the youth national team.

So what else might you look to?:

They assessed the game intelligence of players by freezing match footage at different moments and asking players to predict what would happen next or what decision a player on the field should make.  Elite players were faster and more accurate in their ability to scan the field, pick up cues from an opponent’s position, and recognize, recall, and predict patterns of play.

And:

Researchers have found that the key ingredient is not how much formal practice or how many official games players had as kids, but how much pickup soccer they played in informal settings like the street or schoolyard.

The implications for economics study and speed chess are obvious.  Finally:

Researchers found that athletes have a 25 percent larger attention window than nonathletes.

Is that true for successful CEOs as well?  By the way, I hope to blog  soon about why human talent is in so many endeavors the truly binding constraint.

This is an interesting Africa book, too.

My Conversation with Martina Navratilova

Here is the podcast and transcript, Martina was in top form and dare I say quick on her feet?  Here is part of the summary:

In their conversation, she and Tyler cover her illustrious tennis career, her experience defecting from Czechoslovakia and later becoming a dual citizen, the wage gap in tennis competition and commentary, gender stereotypes in sports, her work regimen and training schedule, technological progress in tennis, her need for speed, journaling and constant self-improvement, some of her most shocking realizations about American life, the best way to see East Africa, her struggle to get her children to put the dishes in the dishwasher, and more.

Here is one bit:

NAVRATILOVA: I just wanted to leave no stone unturned, really. The coach, obviously, was technique and tactics. The physical part was training, working very hard. I’ll give you my typical day in a minute. The eating was so that I could train hard and not get injured. So it all came together.

The typical day, then, when I really was humming was four hours of tennis, 10:00 to 2:00, two hours of drills and maybe two hours of sets. Then I would do some running drills on the court for 15, 20 minutes, sprints that if I did them now, I wouldn’t be able to walk the next day.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: You know, 15- to 30-second sprinting drills. Then we would eat lunch. Then I would go either play basketball full-court, two on two for an hour and a half or little man-big man. It’s two on one. I don’t know, those people that play basketball. You just run. You just run.

COWEN: Which one were you?

NAVRATILOVA: It switches. Whoever has the ball is the little man. No, whoever has the ball, it’s one against two. Then you play little man, the person plays defense, and then the big man plays center. It’s not two on one, it’s one against one and then one. Then whoever gets the ball goes the other way. It’s run, run, run.

Then I would lift weights and have dinner either before lifting weights or after. So it was a full day of training.

COWEN: What about 9:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M.?

And this:

COWEN:Billie Jean King once suggested that you use writing in a journal every day to help you accomplish your goals. How does that work for you? What is it you do? Why do you think it works?

NAVRATILOVA: It worked because it really centers you. It narrows it down, whatever long-term goal you have. It becomes more real and more current because it narrows it down in that, “What do you need to do today?” and “Did you accomplish that goal?” You have a big goal. You break it into smaller goals, into smaller goals, until you get into, “OK, what do I do today to get to that goal?”

…Try to be honest with yourself. Be honest but also be nice to yourself. You see that with most champions. They’re perfectionists. You beat yourself up too much. I preach and I try to strive for excellence rather than perfection.

If you strive for excellence, perfection may happen. [laughs] It’s good enough to be excellent. That’s good enough. You don’t need to be perfect because perfection just happens by accident.

I asked her this:

COWEN: What was it like to go skiing with Donald Trump?

My favorite part was this:

NAVRATILOVA: Tyler, you need to drink more water. You’re not hydrating at all.

Remember, above all else, sports is cognitive!  These are some of the smartest humans of our time, even if it is not always the kind of intelligence you respect most.

The foreign culture that is Congolese

Two Burundi officials have been imprisoned after the African country’s president was allegedly “roughed up” in a football match they organised.

President Pierre Nkurunziza is a ‘born-again’ evangelical Christian who spends much of his time travelling Burundi with his own team, Haleluya FC. He travels with his own choir, “Komeza gusenga”, which means “pray non-stop” in the local Kirundi language.

On 3 February, his team faced a side from the northern town of Kiremba.

Normally, the opposition is well aware they are playing against the country’s president, and it has been said they go easy in the games, even perhaps allowing Nkurunziza to score.

But as the Kiremba team contained Congolese refugees who did not know they were playing against Burundi’s president, they “attacked each time he had the ball and made him fall several times”, a witness told AFP.

Kiremba’s administrator Cyriaque Nkezabahizi and his assistant, Michel Mutama, were imprisoned on Thursday, the news agency reports.

AFP cited a judicial source as saying they had been arrested on charges of “conspiracy against the president”.

Here is more, via Ray Lopez.

Are NBA players friendlier with each other these days?

From one recent ESPN report:

And Bird would always say, “Did Laimbeer make it? [the All-Star game]” And I would say, yes or no, and if it was no, he’d be like “Oh, good. Cause then when I get on the bus and he says, ‘Hi, Larry’ I don’t have to say, “F— you, Bill.” So we can bleep that out, OK? But that’s the old days.

Windhorst: I can actually hear Larry saying that.

MacMullan: That’s the old days. But the new days, these guys are all friends. I’m just amazed at the camaraderie between teams.

Today, ESPN presents “the three unwritten rules for NBA trash talking,” the first being “Don’t make it personal.”  The second is “Be quiet on the bench.”  Where’s the trash?

My Conversation with Robin Hanson

I am honored to have been able to do this, here is the podcast and transcript.  The topics we covered included…the ideas of Robin, most of all: “With Robin, we go meta. Robin, if politics is not about policy, medicine is not about health, laughter is not about jokes, and food is not about nutrition, what are podcasts not about?”

Here is one exchange:

COWEN: Let’s say I’m an introvert, which by definition is someone who’s not so much out there. Why is that signaling? Isn’t that the opposite of signaling? If you’re enough of an introvert, it doesn’t even seem like countersignaling. There’s no one noticing you’re not there.

HANSON: I’ve sometimes been tempted to classify people as egg people and onion people. Onion people have layer after layer after layer. You peel it back, and there’s still more layers. You don’t really know what’s underneath. Whereas egg people, there’s a shell, and you get through it, and you see what’s on the inside.

In some sense, I think of introverts as going for the egg people strategy. They’re trying to show you, “This is who I am. There’s not much more hidden, and you get past my shell, and you can know me and trust me. And there’s a sense in which we can form a stronger bond because I’m not hiding that much more.”

And:

COWEN: Here’s another response to the notion that everything’s about signaling. You could say, “Well, that’s what people actually enjoy.” If signaling is 90 percent of whatever, surely it’s evolved into being parts of our utility functions. It makes us happy to signal. So signaling isn’t just wasteful resources.

What we really want to do is set up a world that caters to the elephant in our brain, so to speak. We just want all policies to pander to signaling as much as possible. Maybe make signals cheaper, but just signals everywhere now and forever. What says you?

HANSON: I think our audience needs a better summary of this thesis that I’m going to defend here. The Elephant in the Brain main thesis is that in many areas of life, perhaps even most, there’s a thing we say that we’re trying to do, like going to school to learn or going to the doctor to get well, and then what we’re really trying to do is often more typically something else that’s more selfish, and a lot of it is showing off.

If that’s true, then we are built to do that. That’s the thing we want to do, and in some sense it’s a great world when we get to do it.

My complaint isn’t really that most people don’t acknowledge this. I accept that people may be just fine leaving the elephant in their brain and not paying attention to it and continuing to pretend one thing while they’re doing another. That may be what makes them happy and that may be OK.

My stronger claim would be that policy analysts and social scientists who claim that they understand the social world well enough to make recommendations for changes—they should understand the elephant in the brain. They should have a better idea of hidden motives because they could think about which institutions that we might choose differently to have better outcomes.

And of course I asked:

COWEN: What offends you deep down? You see it out there. What offends you?

And why exactly does it work to invite your date up to “see my etchings”?  And where is “The Great Filter”?  And how much will we identify with our “Em” copies of ourselves?  There is also quantum computing, Robin on movies, and the limits of Effective Altruism.  On top of all that, the first audience question comes from Bryan Caplan.

You should all buy and read Robin’s new book, with Kevin Simler, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.

The signaling start-up culture that is Finland

Intrepid entrepreneurs have plunged into icy Finnish water in an eccentric contest to win funding for their business ideas.

Polar Bear Pitching allows start-up firms to put forward their projects to investors for as long as they can stand in the freezing temperatures.

The final of the Dragon’s Den-style competition will see a dozen companies put their plans under the noses of investors.

The winner of the two-day contest — which takes place in frozen sea near Oulu on February 6 and 7 — will receive €10,000.

Start-ups who have secured funding say standing in such cold water helps convince investors they are serious.

Here is the article and photo, via Danica Porobic.

Imagine knowing every statistic about yourself

[NBA star John] Wall is shooting 42 percent, his lowest mark since he was a rookie, and he just hasn’t played with enough vigor on either end of the floor. One measure of that: He has spent 76.57 percent of floor time either standing still or walking, the largest such share among all rotation players, according to tracking data from Second Spectrum. Dirk Nowitzki is right behind Wall, and he’s almost 40.

That is from Zack Lowe at ESPN.  By the way, Wall was just named to the NBA All-Star team.