Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bracketology? Is This Really A Science?

Why are we making up all of these new words? By the way, I have always had a hot and cold relationship with the sciences. Bear with me here.

I truly believe I may have been living under a rock for the past couple of years.
Because this is the first time I've ever seen people blow up over this practice during the NCAA Tournament. That, or this is the first year that people are going absolutely bananas over it and trying it for themselves. It appears that even the most obscure of sports fans are talking about their predictions and their bracketing for this year's National Tournament. Please be honest with me, people: Did I miss the boat?

This supposed sports "science" term was coined by an ESPN analyst a few years ago, and while people have been making predictions about seeding and matches for years, it has become a massive mainstream game of Chinese checkers where people do their own research about the NCAA's hottest basketball teams and make their predictions for them. These predictions may include seeding, their sectional placement, and which team may face which in each round. It can be easy--where you just predict the team's progress in the tournament--or it can be extremely complex, where you make those bold predictions that I had mentioned above. The more and more I read about it I feel like an idiot because I still think it's a massive accomplishment that I had finally figured out the in's and out's of fantasy football and this whole practice just blows my self-discovered joy out of the water.

Where did this all come from? 
It's like people wanting to do the Harlem Shake because everyone else was doing it.

The main question that I ask about this kind of practice is this: Can this really be considered a science?
I'm not over-analyzing something for the sake of pulling it apart, but is this truly deserving of the "-ology" suffix? I'm pretty sure it does. Here's why:
1) Various forms of research are done, and a simplistic form of the scientific method is used.
2) Theories are created and tested among other schools of thought (i.e. your friends/enemies).
3) People are using their brains in search of promoting their knowledge--that is...unless if there's an anomaly dancing around (the ever so exciting upset...)

It's simple enough for most people to understand. However, could this be for you? Predicting and making bold research attempts isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea. People like me might be absolutely comfortable with doing statistics and other mathematical measures, but those same people (myself included) might be completely godawful at making predictions and daring placements. Don't get me wrong, I love puzzles and stuff, but my brain can be so far out in left field that if I were to ever do a bracket that it would look like a blue-period Picasso.

Those comments aside, this is a new spin on taking part in the exciting atmosphere that is March Madness. Like I've said before several times in this blog, there is something that is so exciting in the college sports world that can lure in any average Joe and keep the person watching until the very end. I am not a very keen NBA-watcher, but I will watch the NCAA Tournament with little complaint. The atmosphere is so much more different; the degree of fandom in this level of gameplay has a different kind of fire and can really shift the momentum and bring out some high-octane competition. When you see something like that on television, you almost want to be there yourself and feel the energy coming from the court.

This could possibly be another way for the fans to be even closer to the sport and compete with friends in their own way. C'mon people, we're animals, and it's survival of the fittest out there, regardless of whether we people are as active as the basketball players actually playing the game. To be perfectly honest, this is the one actual time of the year that I hear much more praise about college basketball than I do about the NBA, and with the ongoing Miami Heat winning streak, we could be seeing some basketball-sized fireworks in the next few weeks. With the amount of emotional investment that basketball fans all over the country are placing into this new practice of "bracketology," we could see a new revolution of sports fans, especially with the power of social media in our society.

I'm not one to start doing something like this next year, but if you're a person who is up for the challenge, then more power to you. This takes a lot of patience and smarts about each team and conference in the NCAA. You could go the easy way out and just predict paths (which is what I would most likely do) which could be a great start. If you want to get closer to the experience and separate yourself from the boys because you're a man now, give this a shot. Who knows? You could meet more friends this way. You might also learn a lot more about basketball and the art of research. I like research, it's not so bad. You could like it too.

Bracketology is pretty cool with me. I might not do this, but it doesn't mean that it's bad. Carry on, you bracketeers, and best of luck in the NCAA Tournament.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Justice, Discipline, Commitment

This post is comprised of different thoughts I've had while watching the World Baseball Classic and UEFA Champions League. Oh, and if you can guess what cartoon my title comes from, you win a cookie. I'm not saying what it is because I could possibly be ashamed of the cheesiness of it all. Who cares, it fits.

When you play a sport, what do you play for? Honor? Pride? Dignity, perhaps? What measures will you take in order to be the very best? Will you play fair or play dirty? These are the questions an athlete might not only ask on a minor scale, but on the international level. On the international stage, your talents will be put on display, and your reputation will be watched by citizens of your home country as well as citizens of participating countries around the world. Will your patriotic justice be left at the front door, or is it going to lead you to victory?

These are the kinds of things you take into consideration when you see an athlete either represent his or her country or when they are playing with their home team against a team from a completely different league. You will see different forms of discipline, style, and commitment on display. When you play against different teams or play with guys from different leagues, it's like you had originally learned how to drive a car with automatic shift and now you need to learn how to drive a stick shift. Styles really clash, as does the overall atmosphere of play when it comes to international tournaments or friendly matches. Another key word I'd like to use in this instance is "honor." The sport could have a completely different way of being honored in a country. While it may be a religion to some in one country, it could be taken more seriously and fervently in another. It might be all fun and games to you, but it could be someone else's passion and primary priority.

The amount of commitment you make toward the team and your teammates will truly make a difference in playing the sport. Heck, if you face a club teammate on the other team, wouldn't that also give you an edge and added knowledge as well? Commit to it! The whole purpose of commitment is to remain faithful to what you have learned and also building more upon your knowledge along the way. It's a pretty nice way to go, if I do say so myself. The level of that goes to show how much your care about your sport, the way your country supports you, and your overall love of self. Not in the selfish way, of course, but in how you're thankful for the privileges you've been given. I know I would want to make the most out of playing for Team USA in something, so I would want to be at my best and show as much heart as I possibly can. You wouldn't want to throw something like this by the wayside. Hey, I would even do this for free, come to think about it, but there might be that one case where someone disagrees with me...

There's also a different level of discipline when playing for your country. Some countries may have more honor than others, while others may be more liable to starting fights against the other team in defense of a player. Of course, one's pride may be on the line, and the way disagreements are handled will vary from person to person. With that said, however, there's also the case of sportsmanship and how well you handle yourself among your teammates and your opponents. One player on another team might absolutely hate your guts and will work to great length to see you break your face on the field, but the question you must ask is whether you should turn the other cheek or fight fire with fire. While it might be a joy for fans to watch you beat the total snot out of the opposition, one must check oneself before one wrecks oneself. Wrecking as in overall image and well...the possible loss of your dignity in a ridiculously stupid manner. Sure, it might be common sense, but when you're angry, who has time to think? Discipline, people.

I have seen the best and the worst of athletes in these tournaments, and while it might not fully display their character or their work ethic, it's a pretty good indicator of what direction they're taking with their respective careers. They could be good, but they may see this as a self-promotional opportunity instead of a chance representing one's country. I shouldn't be one to judge, so I'll leave those things up for later interpretation.

When it comes to justice and liberty, sports can really show one's true colors or a team's feeling of union, I suppose. I like that. Don't we all?


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's Okay to Namaste

Yoga does not make you a wimpy wuss. It only makes you way more awesome.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think yoga?
Is it this?
Believe me, while that stuff does exist in the world of yoga, you can't knock it until you look into the practice more.
While yoga has been quite a stereotype for heaven knows how long, it has actually become all the rage with today's professional athletes. Numerous professional ballplayers have begun to add different kinds of yoga to their training regimens not only for the benefits of lean muscle strength and flexibility, but for rehabilitation.

It's not an unknown fact that once an athlete begins getting older, certain forms of training don't cut it anymore and injuries could actually begin to build and settle in. It is, however, a known fact that something as simple as meditation can center the body and help it restore some peace in muscles and vital organs. Yoga takes that a step further. While some of the poses look absolutely painful and redundant, the practice of breathing and focusing on core parts of your body not only builds your physical strength, but your mental willpower as well. You will legitimately feel like a warrior after going 20 minutes in a hatha yoga session.

How do I know all of this stuff?
I meditate and do yoga, and I'm darned proud of it.
What, did you think I was going to put a picture of myself doing yoga up here? Uh-uh honey, that's not how things work around here. Anyway.

The main issue that has risen before all of the athletic rushes toward the practice was yoga was only for girls and old people. It couldn't be farther from the truth, men. I'm more than certain that you could lift cars if you wanted to, but are you flexible or disgustingly stiff? Just because you can lift doesn't necessarily mean you're strong. The practice of yoga helps along with metabolic processes in the muscles and makes them much more effective (and way nicer, coming from a woman's point of view). Plus, it also aids in secreting chemicals in the body to relieve pain and stiffness. That's why you normally see older folk practice arts like yoga or feng shui since they use basic movements to improve the quality of life.

From what I've read, yoga in professional sports training is spreading like wildfire. Well-known athletes like David Ortiz, Kevin Garnett, and LeBron James are avid yogis and have used it in their rehab and workouts. It seems to be working pretty well, especially for KG and Ortiz who are getting higher in age (and wisdom). Heck, even coaches practice yoga. Duke's Coach K makes it a part of his routine. With the usual amount of stress that he goes through, yoga definitely has to come in handy. Other athletes like rugby players and professional wrestlers (more famously) have greatly benefited from yoga, as their inclination to nagging injuries is higher and something that doesn't require equipment can be done anywhere at any time. Former pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page has even gone on to create his own yoga program called DDPYoga, focused on weight loss and the rejuvenation of overall lifestyle. His program alone has generated a lot of success stories and has been featured on television programming. If it works for the average everyday person, it definitely has to work for athletes, right?

It all starts with breathing. You can stretch whenever you want, but to get the full benefit of it, you have to want it. Athletes strive to be as healthy and as in shape as possible, so something like this requires discipline. Constant work and determination builds on that discipline and provides strength physically, mentally, and emotionally. For a portable workout like yoga, it provides more benefits than you would think. Are we starting to take this practice a little more seriously since we're seeing some good sides of the practice? I should hope so. If you're looking for a way to begin getting fit somehow, start with your mind. You see what it does to your favorite athletes, so what would it hurt?

Don't worry, people! It's okay to namaste!


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

We're Going Streaking!!

Get your head out of the gutter. I would never do that silly business. Especially when there's the possibility of children being around here.

Over the past couple of days, we've been hearing numerous bits of news about winning streaks and the like. In the NBA, the Miami Heat had just won their fifteenth-straight game, and the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL have played 22 consecutive games in which they have gained points in the season standings (i.e. a win is two points, a "tie" is one point) and could possibly grow to 23 by Tuesday's end.

Needless to say, both of these streaks are ridiculously impressive, and it's a very good reason to watch these teams play. You'd hate to see a streak end, but you would also like to watch it grow as well. Regardless of how much longer both teams go along with their respective streaks, both teams should be happy with how incredibly well they have been playing.

However...this isn't the real reason why I'm writing this post.
(crowd gasp)
Oh c'mon, did you really think I was going to go the easy route on this one? Don't be silly.

Now because there are people out there that like to argue about everything and assume to be right about everything, there's the age-old question being thrown around: Which one is the best? We can make multiple arguments based on overall athleticism required for the sport, but believe me, it goes much deeper than a lame-duck argument like that.

Yeah, I'm going here...Which ongoing streak is more impressive?

I really had to think about this. Since we're talking about two different sports here, we're trying to divide by zero and compare apples to oranges. We have a sport that's played on ice as opposed to a sport played on hardwood flooring, and we also have a sport that supports the continual overtime as opposed to a single overtime leading to a shootout. There are major differences in "winning" and "earning points" when you take a good look at each sport.

Both sports can really drain the life out of you. While hockey includes a lot of skating and not as much "stop and start running" like in basketball, there's the incorporation of padding and the extra physicality that comes with the sport, so it's impossible to make the argument that basketball players are more athletic and have more stamina, making the Heat's streak much more impressive. While basketball is much more slower-paced than hockey, it's also slightly more strategic and just as momentum-based, therefore debunking the argument that hockey can be a quick switch and that the Blackhawks have a more impressive streak based on their handling of momentum. They're even.

We could mention the "star players" that each team has, but when you have a streak going, you can't just attribute these things to your stars. Keeping something like this alive requires the whole team to put effort into the game. Besides, what if someone gets hurt? Clearly if someone gets hurt, someone has to make up for that and keep the fight going. The Heat have their main three in James, Bosh, and Wade, along with guys like Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen. The Blackhawks have their captains in Toews, Sharp, and Keith, along with other guys like Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. Those are some pretty good squads, and they have the guns to back up in case of injury. In my eyes, they're still even here.

Some dude on ESPN (I'm not gonna mention names because I actually do respect the guy) actually claimed that the Heat has the more impressive streak because the Blackhawks have three "ties." Wait a minute. Ties? Why does the third number always have to be a "tie?" In the NHL, the "tie" number is a technicality which represents overtime games and shootouts. Since that doesn't exist in the NBA, there is the simplistic win-loss record. Ties are a slippery slope that stopped their existence in the NHL after the 2004-2005 lockout, and they have helped bring a little more excitement to the league. Let's admit it here: Wouldn't you be pretty upset if an NBA game just happened to stop after one overtime? Of even if an NFL--wait...NFL games still have that problem (and for legitimate reasons, mind you). Nevermind.

What should really matter is the overall play against opposing teams. Sure, it may be impressive to get a decisive win over a rival or a team just as good (if not better), but it's also just as impressive to stave them off in overtime or in a shootout. What it all boils down to is whether you walk out of there with a win or a loss. It shouldn't matter how you get it as long as it's a clean one, right? Both teams ride their own respective momentum and take every skill and push it to their limits. It takes a lot of grit and determination to keep something alive, and regardless of whether it's basketball, hockey, or any other sport, it's truly admirable.

I'm not copping-out on this argument; I'm only saying that both are equally as impressive for the respective sports that they play. C'mon, you have to admit that it's not easy to win 15-straight games even with the roster that you have or go 22 (possibly 23) games recording a point with a jam-packed and rigorous schedule due to the NHL lockout. There isn't a definitive answer pointing to either the Heat or the Blackhawks. If they were in the same league, then we could have a better argument.

Why are we arguing about this, anyway? Just be thankful that the NHL has a season this year and that the NBA hasn't had a major financial collapse after their previous lockout. Now get back to work and stop fighting, you people.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

The NFL Combine in an Amateur's Eyes

This year's NFL Combine has come and passed, but I was really sick this week. Do you want me to sneeze on you? I thought so. Just let me complete my thoughts, you people.

Bench Pressing.
Obstacle Coursing.

These are the harrowing experiences that young college grads have to course through in what is called the NFL Combine. For starters, this is usually the "big time," where you show-off to scouts and various business agents so you could be brought into consideration for drafting and/or other business deals. For a couple of days, various college football players will undergo tasks and feats of strength to catch the attention of professional teams. An event like this is one of a kind here in the States, and truthfully, many football fans see this as an event in itself.

Because I never cared about the NFL Combine until now, these were the first things that came to mind before I did research and wrote about this post.

(click for the epitome of 80's action movies in less than eight minutes)

I'm serious. Something like this just seems boring to me. Why? Because here's the thing...shouldn't their game play make all of the difference here? There are probably some guys out there that really know how to work out and get in shape, but they probably absolutely suck when it comes to playing football at a higher level. Again, this could just be me because I don't have as much testosterone raging through my body since I'm a woman, but this just seems like a blip on the map that I wouldn't want to touch.

Enough of my thoughts about the Combine being boring. Here is some other commentary...

While reading about the Combine, I had completely forgotten that there are regional combines that happen around the country. There is even a female kicker named Lauren Silberman who will be looking to try out and get her start somehow. The regional combines only started a few years ago, but they've given careers to guys like St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein. They're honestly like open tryouts, but much tougher and more sharply-cut than most "auditions" of sorts.

There is one little thing that interests me about the whole idea of the Combine. It sort of reminds me of a tryout for American Gladiators. In a way, this is more of a test of an athlete's work ethic and his drive to want to play professionally. You could be totally jacked at 6'3" and 250 pounds and can sprint like a madman, but is your heart in it? Are you passionate about what you do? If you aren't, then you might not fit the part of a teammate for someone's squad. I'd say it's a pretty nice deal-breaker to test these guys out to see if they're all talk or if they truly mean business. For those that know me, you may know that I may be a sucker for talent, but to make it even more impressive in my eyes, you have to love what you do. Wouldn't you agree with that statement?

Since most team drills are very,, the Combine is used mostly for individual performance and endurance. It's especially beneficial for guys on the defensive and offensive lines since they're not always singled-out in practice or in film. However, like I said above, they could be really strong and really agile, but they won't be tackling dummies or hopping through tires out there. They might actually have to try to apply themselves. You can only train so hard for something like this. It's often best to train with actual human beings to prepare you for life. Some guys who do really well in the Combine can actually turn out to be a super bust in the NFL, so this event could be almost as challenging for the scouts and the teams as it is for the athletes trying out.

Because I'm an ultra-amateur at anything outside of NFL, I see something like this as an acting audition. Since I've been through numerous of those, I've been drawing comparisons to that. It might not be the best thing to compare it to, but that's just me. When you audition, you need to display your skill of voice, projection, and presentation all while proving that you're the best fit for a role and have the drive and determination to be your best. It's almost the same thing at the NFL Combine. You're good, you may know it, but will the scouts know it? They may have seen your performances on film and in team practice, but this is your time to prove your flexibility, your conditioning, and your drive on a larger scale.

While it's also an "audition," it's also a mini-competition between future draftees to fight for their reputation. I guess it can be as catty as an all-girls cheerleading squad too. While there is little room for hostility, it's still there, and you're looking to impress as best as possible and not let anyone beat you to the punch. My comparisons are making you shake your head, aren't they? Okay then. Moving on...

The NFL Combine isn't exactly my cup of tea, but if you can follow it and take it seriously for your dream draft picks, then I salute you. It seems like a really good way to weed out the determined players from ones that are just bulky and only look the part. I have a feeling that it's going to take me a while to warm up to it and see the other true meanings behind the combine. When it comes to athleticism, I could be rather nitpicky, so this could definitely take me a while to really look into what it takes to be an efficient football player.

Could I be considered a rookie now?