Looking for stuff to read about revolutionary approaches to sports
December 13, 2010 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Strange new personal interest... Help me find more things to read about non-traditional approaches to coaching/playing/thinking about sports.

I really enjoyed these two articles:
How Underdogs Can Win
Oregon's Speed Freak Football

And have this on the reading list:

What else should I check out?
posted by healthykindofsick to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I have heard great things about Plimpton's Paper Lion.
posted by griphus at 12:33 PM on December 13, 2010

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics is a historical look at how tactics in soccer have changed over time. A bit dry at times, but a lot of detail into how/why coaches try new tactics, and how they catch on.
posted by inigo2 at 12:42 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you can find any in-depth articles or literature on it, you should definitely read up on basketball's Princeton Offense. Good luck with that, as coaching disciples of the PO are notoriously tight-lipped about teaching it to just anyone in the coaching ranks (apparently subscribing to the "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear" philosophy), so there isn't a lot of in-depth stuff out there.
posted by KingEdRa at 12:45 PM on December 13, 2010

THe major shift in all sports these days is in statistical analysis. Baseball has always had a lot of analysis and stats, but they have expanded it into areas such as range of fielding that was not previously covered. Basketball also is evolving with teams such as the Houston Rockets doing all sorts of analysis on their players and the rest of the league. If you look up Paul Westhead adn the Loyola Marymount basketball team, (Video) you will see a real innovative style that worked for the right players.
posted by AugustWest at 12:50 PM on December 13, 2010

Came here to recommend Inverting the Pyramid, but you may also enjoy Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer, and, in shorter form, Run of Play, which I believe is partially by MeFi's own Kattullus, and Zonal Marking. All of these are about football/soccer.
posted by proj at 12:52 PM on December 13, 2010

Oh, and for American football, you may want to read The Blind Side which is also by Michael Lewis. It's like Moneyball, but is also half human-interest story which can be easily skimmed if you're not into that kind of thing.
posted by proj at 12:55 PM on December 13, 2010

Speaking of Michael Lewis, his article on (now former) Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is a trip. If you like American football, do yourself a favor and spend time on SmartFootball. There's a lot there on the spread offense, which you now know something about after reading the NYTimes piece on Chip Kelly.
posted by arco at 1:10 PM on December 13, 2010

Best answer: One very important figure in Moneyball is statistician Bill James. He waged a lonely little fight against baseball orthodoxy for decades, eventually gaining mainstream acceptance from teams like Billy Beane's A's and Theo Epstein's Red Sox, who hired James as a consultant. Here is a Ben Shapiro New Yorker profile of James from 2003; here is a Slate interview with him from that same year.

Here's a fun factoid from the Slate interview:
In projecting a pitcher, by far the largest consideration is his health. There are a hundred pitchers in the minor leagues today who are going to be superstars if they don't hurt their arms. The problem is, 98 of them are going to hurt their arms. At least 98 of them. Pitchers are unpredictable because it is very difficult to know who is going to get hurt and when they are going to get hurt.

Michael Lewis opens Moneyball by drawing a sharp distinction between stat-oriented analysts, with their laptops and fancy degrees, versus scouting-oriented analysts, who specialize in in-person analysis of a player's physical tools. Representatives of the two occasionally hostile sides came together for this interview at Baseball America. They had this exchange on projecting future performance of high school pitchers:
ALAN SCHWARZ: Gary Huckabay, I believe you coined the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.”

GARY HUCKABAY: Yeah, but that was an overstatement designed to sell books. When I say there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect, it’s because it’s really, really hard, for even the very best scouts, to identify a guy that’s a) going to go through the minor leagues and survive potential injuries that high school pitchers often run into; and b) when I was 18 years old, I spent most of my time imbibing ethanol and chasing women, and I don’t think I was an atypical 18-year-old.
The most enjoyable website for Bill James-rooted criticism of baseball discourse is the sadly defunct Fire Joe Morgan, which included Ken Tremendous, a.k.a. Mose Schrute, a.k.a. Michael Schur. His take on stat-averse analysis is as follows:
What you are calling "by the book managing" is often completely thoughtless, ignorance-steeped tradition. 2-1 count with a guy on first? Hit and run. Leadoff guy gets on? Bunt him over. That's by-the-book managing, and it's dumb. What people like Bill James, and Rob Neyer, and BP, and Billy Beane advocate is: research, analysis, thought, science. But fuck that. Let's read some tea leaves.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:31 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also by Michael Lewis, this article regarding Shane Battier and his impact with the Houston Rockets.
posted by elmay at 1:54 PM on December 13, 2010

I've always been a fan of The Sports Economist blog.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 7:01 PM on December 13, 2010

Have you read Outliers? It's by the author of that first article you linked to. One small section of it about Hockey players birthdays, most of it here.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:07 AM on December 14, 2010

Shoot me a MeMail with your contact info, and I'll send you a copy of my Dad's book.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:27 AM on December 14, 2010

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