The line between training and cheating

In the book, I talk a little about the hazy line between “what an athlete could achieve normally” and “cheating” in the context of nutritional supplements and other training devices.

I thought of this when I read this Wired article, “Wayne Gretzky-Style ‘Field Sense’ May Be Teachable

Essentially, it appears that there are ways that you can help teach a player to have a better sense of spatial relationships, specifically in recognizing where a tennis serve will go with almost no information. Read the article – I found it fascinating.

But it raises the old issue: when does this get to the point of being an unfair advantage? We already see tennis prodigies raised by their parents to play (parents take jobs near supercoaches, drive the kids ridiculous distances, pay for tournament entries) that give them a huge head start over a similarly-talented kid growing up in rural Idaho, or Atlanta, who doesn’t have access to the same resources.

If you can teach young baseball kids better pitch recognition skills that make them dramatically better prospects, but the equipment costs $50,000 to use for a year, who does that help, and who does that hurt? Does it also severely unbalance the game in favor of rich countries?

We see some of this already in the construction of batting cages, but other sports – track and field, for instance, was the first to adopt use of hyperbaric chambers designed to allow athletes to sleep in low-oxygen environments without having to hike up a mountain. Now we’re starting to see basketball players use it.

Technically, you could travel up a mountain, sleep, come down for a game or practice or other training, and then go back up every night. It’s possible.

But if the issue is fairness, then equipment and training techniques like those detailed in the article make performance dependent in some respects on monetary resources over individual merit, and that’s not fair.

And if the issue is limiting the use of training techniques, where do you draw the line between teaching pitch recognition, like this, and batting cages? Are pitchers who can get full biomechanical workups early at a distinct advantage over those who don’t?

All these questions and more will have to be confronted in the coming years, and potentially could dramatically affect the way baseball recruits and develops its talent.


#1 vj on 05.30.07 at 1:27 am

Derek, the link on the wired article has a typo. Cheers, VJ

#2 DMZ on 05.30.07 at 12:28 pm

Fixed, thanks.

#3 Evan on 05.30.07 at 1:22 pm

This problem – where to draw the line – is why I don’t object to PEDs. Since anywhere you draw the line is necessarily arbitrary, why have a line at all?

#4 sdsd on 06.01.07 at 6:19 pm

Derek – In your book creatine should of been looked at more. Despite being illegal, it’s actually a massive performance enhancing drug, and could enable a player to hit more homeruns. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the drug responsible right now for some of the players still looking bulked up and jacking homeruns. Anderson goes out of his way to say creatine enabled him to jack 50 homeruns – Dr. Yeslasis, if I recall correctly in “jucin’ the game” claims to consider creatine a performance enhancing drug, and argues that it should be banned because of performance enhancing attributes.

#5 sdsd on 06.01.07 at 6:20 pm

ahh, edit, I meant ” despite being legal “.

#6 DMZ on 06.01.07 at 6:23 pm

Well, I looked at the available literature on creatine, and while it’s not conclusive, there’s certainly no consensus that it’s a “massive performance enhancing drug”.

And if it’s entirely safe and natural, I’m not sure what the harm would be.

#7 eponymous coward on 06.04.07 at 11:04 am

Hmm, what I got out of it is that the way to pick up these skills is through UNSTRUCTURED play, to the point where the skill becomes unconscious and part of autonomic response- Gretzky spending hours every day in his backyard rink.

In that sense, the best way to pick up things like pitch recognition is to play baseball. A lot… and all you really need is an empty lot, a ball and a bat, and some kids.

This helps to explain why umpteen Major league ballplayers come from a 200,000 person city in the Dominican Republic (San Pedro de Macoris), whereas there isn’t anything like that in the US, where, say 70 US-born ballplayers come from Spokane. If you’re playing ball every day in pickup situations, you get some things you won’t get in Little League.

#8 DMZ on 06.04.07 at 7:17 pm

Indeed, one of the interesting things you pick up from reading player biographies is how much formative experience shapes their play as major leaguers: if they have to use a corn cob as a ball, they might learn to hit pitches that move strangely in a way that other players don’t, for instance.

#9 sdsd on 06.05.07 at 9:00 pm

Derek – Oh, it’s most certainly considered among the athletic community and bodybuilding community to be a PED. Did you happen to have conversations with people who actually use the drug?

Creatine certainly isn’t a steroid, but it can provide some fantastic results.

#10 DMZ on 06.05.07 at 9:44 pm

I wouldn’t argue that there isn’t evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, that it helps – it’s that it’s not a massive help, and certainly not in the way steroid injections are. That’s the argument there.

My point was that in researching it, I didn’t find any persuasive studies that said creatine had any kind of amazing results, and there’s a lot of studies published that say its effects are negligible.

Going all the way to the entirely personal, my own experience trying it as part of a targeted workout regimen didn’t get me much over what I’d seen with workouts alone.

#11 sdsd on 06.06.07 at 8:02 pm

Derek – Well of course it’s not something as beneficial as steroid injections ( actually, it depends what steroids you are discussing), but it can still provide some results, especially if you are in your athletic prime. I’m surprised to see you didn’t get any results? What kind did you use just out of curiousity? and maybe everyone’s body reacts different towards them.

I would personally lump creatine with Andro – Certainly a PED, but not as effective as steroids.