Science is showing us that our instincts about quickness are wrong.
The best performers, it turns out, aren’t reacting more quickly (thanks to limits of nerve-conduction speed, human reflexes are pretty consistent).
The best performers are using time differently — namely, they’re using it to get more information.
For example, let’s take the classic case of a tennis player returning serve.
You would instinctively think that the best returners are the ones who react the quickest. But you’d be wrong.
Experiments show that the best players succeed because they wait longer before they make their swing.
They use that time to gather information about the ball, the spin, the opponent’s position, and make decisions about it.
And in tennis — as in many other areas of life — the better data you have, the better result you tend to get.
In other words, being quick isn’t about speed; it’s about information. It’s about learning how to wait.
(…)Steve Lacy, who played with Thelonious Monk, set down a list of Monk’s advice for the members of his combo. Here’s a selection:
- Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
- Stop playing all those weird notes (that bullshit), play the melody!
- Make the drummer sound good.
- Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that.
- Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by …
What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.
- When you’re swinging, swing some more.
- Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
- You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
What I love about Monk’s list is his basic message about the importance of awareness, collaboration, and having clearly defined roles, which apply as much to basketball as they do to jazz.
I discovered early that the best way to get players to coordinate their actions was to have them play the game in 4/4 time. The basic rule was that the player with the ball had to do something with it before the third beat: either pass, shoot, or start to dribble.
When everyone is keeping time, it makes it
easier to harmonize with one another, beat by beat. (…)