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.