Monday, July 28, 2014

Sports Logic: Parallel & Sequential Sports

Each sport possess its own competitor logic. This logic generates accompanying intellectual and physical virtues that connect to success given that logic of that competition. The logic of the sport then shapes the form of mental, emotional and physical characteristics needed to succeed. 

Parallel competition is one of those logics. It takes many variations but structures its competition around individual athletes competing alone unimpeded by others against other competitors. They may do this in lanes against each other or sequentially one after another. This parallel world differs fundamentally from direct physical competition such as soccer and football where physical interactions can impede actions. It also differs from competitions mediated by a net or any competitive world where the opposition can directly influence the competitors either physically or force applied direction on the competitive object. 

The parallel world isolates the competitor against other competitors but the other competitors cannot push back or fight via applied force. Instead each competitor pushes off and competes on the course. The archetypes of such competition lie in the sprints of running and swimming where each player sprints in their lane cannot cross the lane. The fastest person wins.

Different variations occur when the sport does not permit lanes but launches sequentially, but again does not usually permit contact based, competition. Golf, diving, shooting, rowing most snow boarding or skiing function the same way—they all often share same dynamics of “one shot” sports.

Taking sprints as an archetype the sports demand a particular focus upon practiced discipline and incredible focus upon minute but cumulative differences.  Angle of approach, starts, and finger placement, body discipline, and muscle deployment, wind resistance all adds up. Over even a short span of time and distance they matter. The longer the distance the more they matter.   Sometimes distance running vacillates between original parallel competition and mêlée competition and then back to parallel.

Several keys arise in performance and virtue:

1.   Athletes need to prepare meticulously. Because the opposition does not have the chance to contact or fake or use their power to displace or overwhelm a person, precision and practiced discipline or minute technical details matter. Preparation takes on immense importance.

2.  Focus in execution matters. As in one-shot sports, athletes have to be totally present and capable of pushing out all distraction. They must attend to the exact parameters of a situation. Often this might involve weather or natural conditions as in skiing or golf. But this capacity to narrow focus, attend to only what matters and execute takes on huge importance.

3.  The start matters immensely. In all these one shot and sequential or parallel activities, the launch or first movement has overwhelming importance. It takes immense and total concentration at the start since many competitors compete against the clock or the power of the launch determines the initial advantage or ability to complete the action as in golf, diving or skiing.

4.  Technique and adaptability to environmental conditions are supreme the vast majority of the time. The launch or precise technique must adapt to the conditions so that changes or even different techniques may be called upon depending upon conditions of the surface or weather.

5.  Tactics matter sometimes.  Because the sport is run in parallel or sequentially, people generally know exactly where others are in the standings or competition. Usually they compete in circuits so they know each other’s strengths and limitations as well as preferred styles. This puts great weight upon preparation for and anticipation of the other. Tactics are often set before hand. Only in true competitive running, swimming or relays where a competitor can see or glance at the competitor can they adapt on the fly.
a.    Managing energy and momentum depend upon situational awareness and timing. Here knowing when to go all out or when to conserve demands discipline, knowledge and self-awareness. The key to many of these races relies, again in the start where one can break away and create a commanding lead. Or knowing when to “kick.” This spurt of energy or kick can again break away and seal the race, or prematurely exhaust a competitor so that when opponents launch their kick, the competitor has “nothing left in the tank” and watches others pass by and win.
b.  On the other hand in sequential and highly formalistic sports such as diving or skating competitors may change their performance at the last minute in light of the successes or failures of their competitors. They may need more points or fewer points depending upon competitors and this can lead to different moves.
6.  Sometimes the moment demands everything. In the winter Olympics of 20014 a female US snowboarder had a sense of what the competitors were doing and what she needed. She literally changed her program in mid air because “it felt right.”

Parallel and sequential sport places immense pressure upon preparation. In more than a few of these sports iconoclast sheer talent folks will win for awhile, but not sustain it given their off course lack of discipline and focus.

The preparation demands serious discipline between competitions. It also requires knowing competitors very well. The capacity to adapt lies not just to the environment, but also to the positioning, lead and kicks or break-aways of opponents. It also demands a fearless view of what competitors are doing in way of meeting scoring requirements by judges and the ability to judge one’s own capacity and skills and whether to add or subtract from routines in light of what is going one.


Then, sometimes, as with young Olympian, a competitor must just go all the way and throw the dice.  Of course that all or nothing, that immense imaginative leap in the moment, depends upon the steeled discipline, practice and focus that lead up to the moment of execution.

3 comments:

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