A better swing of the bat

Winkletter  •  26 Feb 2023   •    

While researching affordances (perceived potential actions) I stumbled across a sports trainer called Rob Gray who has written two books on movement, and lectures on YouTube about training techniques.

Much of what he is working on is trying to dispel the myth of repeatable, automatic actions. In training there is a pervasive attitude that we want to repeat actions until we learn an ideal form that we can whip out and use as needed. In sports and in work, we seek to teach people to produce automatic actions that they know so well they don’t have to think.

I see this attitude in my own attempts to improve my writing by creating a rigid procedures I can follow.

The better training regimen is a bit more complicated than I can absorb in an afternoon, but one idea I’m learning about is the difference between action capacity versus a skill. For example, to improve a batter’s swing (skill) you might think to train them with heavier bats as a way to increase their capability (action capacity) to swing a normal bat faster (angular velocity.) But when you give an athlete a heavier bat, they will adjust in one of two ways.

  1. Swing the bat faster
  2. Swing the bat earlier

The second adjustment is counterproductive. The reason you want to increase a batter’s swing speed is precisely so they can swing the bat later when the ball is closer.

So, instead of training with weighted bats, you can increase the specific action capacity of angular velocity using something called an Aquaball, and then pair it later with a task constraint called visual occlusion. You have a batter close their eyes and only open them when the trainer yells at a particular point while a pitch is in flight.

The training is meant to increase the athlete’s ability to act upon information in the environment (skill) by increasing their action capacity. The weighted bat training was actually causing some athletes to reduce their action capacity. It was teaching them to swing early.

In most training, people tend to treat skills as though they were capacities. By doing so, they are actually constraining action capacities.

Being skillful does not involve a process of repeating the solution. It involves repeating the process of finding a solution.
– Rob Gray, Action Capacity vs Skill

So when I train as a writer, I should consider if what I’m doing increases my action capacity. Trying to write more words in an hour, for example, might lead to a negative adaptation where I write in an overly descriptive manner, trying to squeeze as many words into a scene as possible. Instead, I might want to practice writing a scene at different word counts so I can learn how to compress or expand story-time.


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