Thursday, February 3, 2005

Forming with Small Hands

I've been meaning to weave three disparate threads together, triple helix style; they converged--blink!--for an instant while I was reading the other day, and it seemed like more than another drill.  Who's running this time?  Ann Berthoff, Steve Berlin Johnson, and one more (Coach: I don't care who goes, dammit.  Fill in the lines.)  First, I've got to tell you a bit about the weave:

In college, we'd run a lot of early morning practices--stretched and ready by 6 a.m.  We shared one small gym among several sports, so folks took turns getting the prime 3-5 afternoon slot.  Until volleyball season ended, basketballers worked out in the morning.  I won't go too far into the context of practices or the conditions in the gym.  Think of a box with three outer walls aligning tightly with the out of bounds line, a tight 88' court (right...88) where the temperature inside matched whatever was outside, at least until the hot-water heat system kicked in (6:30 or 6:45). 

Unsurprisingly, we ran a lot of drills, especially early in the season and throughout the preseason months leading up to a first game sometime in early November.  With just two baskets, practices tested the limits of simultaneous activity.  For everyone to be involved, we often worked through stations, did a lot of ball work, agility circuits, speed and quickness, heavy ball and weight vests--rituals that could be performed without a hoop.  Shooting time was spare; forcing those who cared enough to work on their jumpers into a separate, custom slot squeezed by all other practices.  Half hour wherever it would fit. 

The weave is a common basketball drill; the commonest (all that bullshit "gym time" just jacking up shots, that's not making you a better player). The conditions of the drill: three lines beginning with regular spacing, pass, go behind, pass, go behind, pass, go behind.  The trivium advances the length of the court through a braided pattern; players ex through the middle of the court, but otherwise they push into one outer lane or the other outer lane--broad S-ing-curves the length of the court.  Strike a 45-degree slant from the hash mark, and punctuate with a simple lay-up.  Then back again.

The weave is a hands drill (but not just a hands drill).  Don't let the ball hit the floor (again and again, voice and echo in escalating rejoinders). Except on the bounce pass leading the lay-up, the ball can't touch.  When the ball touched the floor (cause: fumble), the trio would return to the beginning and start again, continuing until they worked the pattern quasi-algorithmically.  A once and back was easy; down and back twice, tougher.  Three trips?  So the condition of flawless execution and return trips stretched as far as was needed to exceed the lowest threshold for physical or mental fatigue by one among the group of three.  Key: seek a strong group for the run--good hands, reliable finishers.  If you run with an unreliable finisher, pace so the lay-up goes to somebody who will score it.  Every time.  Make plays easy for those around you.

Berthoff, who, when I was reading this week, said this: 

That's why it's useful, I think, to keep in mind that a paragraph gathers like a hand.  Note that the gathering hand operates in different ways: the hand that holds a couple of eggs or tennis balls works differently from the hand that holds a bridle or a motorbike handle.  When you measure out spaghetti by the handful, scoop up water by the handful, hold a load of books on your hip, knead bread, shape a stack of papers, build a sand castle, your hands move in different planes and with different motions, according to the nature of the material being gathered.  But in any case, the hand can gather because of the opposable thumb. (The thumb of the human hand can be brought into opposition with the fingers.) A paragraph gathers by opposing a concept and the elements that develop and substantiate it.  The kind of gathering a paragraph makes is thus dependent on the kinds of elements and the way in which they have been gathered. (Making of Meaning 6)

But we're gathering a basketball.  (Can you catch the ball? Make your hands big. Squeeze the ball when you catch it.) Clean pass, clean catch.  Collect the ball. Keep it simple.  Refrain from the flashy. Work together. One drop and all three reset for another try.  Worst case.  Get out of my gym.

I didn't really need a metaphor...

Steve Berlin Johnson on "Tools for Thought" and DevonThink, in his NYT article, tells us about a gather-minded text-search app that can intuit the lexical resemblances associating in a sampling of documents. 

No doubt some will say that these tools remind them of the way they use Google already, and the comparison is apt. (One of the new applications that came out last year was Google Desktop -- using the search engine's tools to filter through your personal files.) But there's a fundamental difference between searching a universe of documents created by strangers and searching your own personal library. When you're freewheeling through ideas that you yourself have collated -- particularly when you'd long ago forgotten about them -- there's something about the experience that seems uncannily like freewheeling through the corridors of your own memory. It feels like thinking. (Johnson)

I didn't really need a metaphor to extend my sense of the ways gathering and collecting and forming have changed.  But this one took me, induced me to "freewheeling through the corridors of [my] own memory."  Metaphors, I was reminded, when I tried to open a little bit of this up, are only useful to the extent that they give us expanded understandings of the relationships between things (and concepts?).  They are neither inherently true nor false; metaphors merely serve us more or less well depending on how they compel us, perhaps idiosyncratically, to think differently, with new understanding (not only my ideas, exactly...comes from a talk in the 720 course this week). I guess I'll stop here.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at February 3, 2005 10:29 PM to Sport

Thanks for a great reminiscence. I'd love to say something intelligent and stimulating about Berthoff or Johnson -- or even the work you put into building this really fine discussion. Alas, my head is back in the stinky ol' gym we used to call The Barn. That was a long time ago (but probably not as long as it seems). I rode the pines a lot -- not much to say for a 5' 7" point guard with no left hand. But I loved practice man, especially drills like the weave. And I loved it even more during pre-season when some newbie would screw it up and run smack into the coach standing at center court.

Thanks for the trip D.

Posted by: mike at February 9, 2005 11:05 AM

Glad to share, Mike. I've been reminded all winter that this is the first time in a loooong time that I'm not attached to a basketball team of any sort. I've been coaching middle-schoolers for the last four years while working in a small college athletic department where I had to walk on the court to even get to my office (which just through a door, courtside). So I'm infected with all these basketball metaphors. It's just how I make sense of some abstract things. So yeah, the weave, I loved it and hated it. Worst was when we had to touch the sideline after each pass. Close to impossible for a slow-poke like me.

Posted by: Derek at February 9, 2005 10:33 PM