We all know that sport results are non-transitive. If A beats B and B beats C does not assure that A will beat C. It might mean that A will be favored over C but the outcome is uncertain.
Today at the handball court we had a splendid example of that non-transitive nature. On Thursday nights four of us play round-robin singles ending with a game of doubles. Here are the results for the evenings top three players:
A beat B 15-1
B beat C 15-2
C beat A 15-10
There were no injuries, temper tantrums, or endurance issues that you might find in a local club. It could have been match-up problem like a lob serve but it wasn’t. It was just about momentum. You get on a roll and you need to bury your opponent because you know what can happen if you lose momentum to a capable opponent.
Relative scores in sports can be useful information but they are not definitive. We showed that again tonight.
As a handball player we are a keen observer of handedness. This obviously includes in the court but also includes lots of other environments. We are also a fan of the mystery genre in print, TV, and movies. We think that mystery writers use handedness as a plot device but that either they don’t understand it or they recognize that everyone accepts probabilistic data as deterministic. That is, it is more likely that a right hander will commit an act with his right hand but for most people it is far from certain that the right hander will act right handed.
In our experience there are two issues related to what hand a person will use to take an action. It is likely that there are more but these are enough to conclude that the mystery devices are not convincing. The first is degree of handedness. You could measure this on a handball court because the player must use both hands.. What percentage of shots does the person take with each hand? We are the fairly rare example that takes somewhere near half of the shots with each hand. Even within in that division there are certain shots that we prefer one hand or the other. Our guess is that we take 80% of backwall shots with our left hand. Lots of players are very heavy toward their dominant hand and some (by our estimate) take as many as 90% of their shots with it. This is the mystery writer model but it is only true for part of the population.
Another part of the equation is dominant eye. We don’t know how or if dominant hand and dominant eye are connected. We have a mildly dominant right hand and a very dominant left eye. It would be difficult if not impossible for us to shoot a gun or a bow with our right hand because we couldn’t line it up.
It is time for mystery writers to drop the handedness but we would like to see something that includes dominant eye. Handedness just isn’t convincing method to eliminate suspects.
Recently NRO offered up some copies of High Jinx by WFB at a reasonable price. We jumped and bought it. Market efficiency (the paperback is $10.95 with used and electronic versions cheaper) means that NRO hasn’t cornered the market but it was offered in The Corner. We have not read WFB fiction before.
Sidebar: We recognize the importance of WFB to the conservative movement but he was never our favorite. We preferred George Will or Milton Friedman. It was a matter of style rather than content. End Sidebar.
It is a fun read. Stalin is dead but Beria is still making mischief. Ike is the President but Caroline is the Queen. The author mentions himself and Brent Bozell in discussing Senator McCarthy. But the most important part is on p. 24: “Master Sergeant “Newt” announced in an imperious voice that there would be a handball game….” We know that there is team handball (we even got a shirt at the Olympics) but it seems hard to believe that WFB and his dashing hero would play such a mundane sport. The text does mention team but that could be a (real) handball doubles team. Since WFB isn’t around to answer the question, we conclude that Blackford Oaks is a handball player. We plan to read the rest of the novels to see if handball shows up again.
The one disappointment in High Jinx is that there is no commentary on the matches. How does Blackford deal with balls on the left? Who is the power server?
Heather Wilhelm (here she is at NRO) is the Happy Warrior in NRODT. She quotes Thoreau approvingly, “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” We approve too. It might be a characteristic of expertise in general and sports in particular. For the sports we are most active in, golf, handball, bridge, it rings true.
Sidebar: OK, bridge might not be be classified as a sport: “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Of the five bold words or phrases it surely meets four but would have trouble with physical exertion. On the other hand, playing 26 hands in three hours has some exertion. End Sidebar.
Expertise lies in deciding that doing the same thing and expecting different results is crazy but finding something else that isn’t crazy or desperate. It is a fine line between a calculated risk and desperation. In golf, a low percentage shot over the water is likely to be desperation in stroke play but a calculated risk in match play. In handball trying a shot as a return (the second shot of the point) might be desperation but on the 14th shot when both players are tired it could be a good risk. Bridge with its long events almost always rewards avoiding desperation. Wisdom is knowing that a bottom score is a bottom score. We are on board with avoiding desperation.
Over at PowerLine, Ammo Grrrll has had some rotator cuff problems:
I tore my rotator cuff, a cuff whose existence I was blissfully unaware of previously. Are there other important cuffs in the body?
We have great sympathy for rotator cuff injuries. Unlike Ammo Grrrll, handball players are acutely aware of their rotator cuffs. You use both hands (and arms and shoulders) to play so an injury to either is devastating and common but an injury to your dominant hand is the worst possible case. As Ammo Grrrll recounts, the speed of recovery is glacial and weeks or months without handball is far, far less of a life. As it happens, two weeks ago the best handball player in the city injured his right (and dominant) rotator cuff. We were playing doubles against him and he tried to help his partner when he hit his partner with his hand on a swing and the rotator cuff could not take the stress of the swing being stopped. It won’t be speedy so we hope all the recoveries will be full.
Every first Thursday the handball players meet with no scheduled matches. Everybody can play everyone else. Of course, these days everybody is a small number. Tonight, however, there was interesting news. At 15-20 playing doubles against a team including the best player in the city (yes it is a very small number but he is still by far the best) your humble scribe ran six points for a 21-20 victory. Happy days.
After handball we retired for refreshments. On of the topics was the election. In a forced choice, Herself or The Donald, the vote was 7-1 for The Donald with one vote for Castro. The sample was (half of these folks are retired-well yes there are nine but four are retired and one of them has retired twice but is still working) four manufacturing employees, a meat cutter, cop, professor, physical therapist, and investment advisor. It is all males so it is not a great sample but does have some variety. We were surprised at the outcome.
OK, if you can hit the big hook we will wait while you leave. I remember the guy who hit me in the middle of the chest with one. I can’t help you folks and frankly you don’t need much help.
There, now we have a reasonably sized group. To keep this short we are only going to talk about drive serves from a sidearm or underhand position. By varying the speed, server location, and spin most folks can create an effective drive serve. The key to varying the speed is to hit the ball with a similar motion but impart less force. When you do this, especially late in a game or match, the receiver may misjudge the ball.
I have details below but here is my recommendation for learning about your serve. Serve a game or a match entirely with your off-hand. Apply the techniques below and any others that you see fit in an organized fashion. An organized fashion would be to divide the game into sections (I use thirds) and then analyze the data.
The three obvious techniques are the location to start the serve, spin, and ball ending location. I’ll leave the last one to you. There are many different positions in the service box to deliver the ball. I use six feet in, the middle and 14 feet in and the middle (up and back) of the box. I only use the six feet in position to serve the ball off a low bounce. I also serve from the front middle of the box.
I know we shouldn’t save most important for last but varying the spin is crucial if you don’t have a killer serve. Most folks come from a baseball background and try to serve a curve. It is great if you can do it well but many folks can’t. A ping pong background tells you to angle your bat or in this case, hand. In a normal serve your hand is parallel to the front wall at impact and the fingers power through the ball. To hit the ball down the wall, leave the hand open and hit the ball between the two pads on your palm. By varying the location of the fingers and the angle of the hand, the server can create a variety of challenges for the receiver.
Try it with your off-hand to be more analytical. Then try it with the other hand to improve you serve. You might even practice it. Good luck.