What’s Your Gadget?

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For the past couple weeks, my wife Jen has been asking me if I’m going to write about the goggles. She’s asked enough about the goggles, in fact, that it’s become a running joke in our house. It’s gotten to the point that if you simply blurt out the word “goggles” at unexpected times, you get a big laugh.

(Goggles!)

So here’s the story: there’s this eight-year-old kid, Seth Wilson, who lives near us in Ohio. Seth happens to have been named the top-ranked second-grader in the country by a basketball website middleschoolelite.com (why in the world people would rank second graders is a topic for another day). Thing is, Seth is really, really good, and he sometimes practices wearing these homemade — you guessed it — goggles. They’re not normal goggles, because the lower half of the lenses is painted black. When Seth wears them during his drills, he can’t see anything at his feet.

The goggles increase his feel for the ball, his vision, his touch. Essentially, they nudge him to the sweet spot on the edge of his ability and put the focus on perhaps the most important skill a young player has to develop — controlling the ball on auto-pilot while focusing his attention on the game.

Jen is absolutely right to love the goggles, because they’re genius. In a world where people pay big money for lessons and high-tech equipment, a homemade gadget like this is skill-development gold. Which got us thinking about other gadgets.

Such as the Hershey’s Kiss, used by young violinists. This gets placed in on the body of the violin as they play. If you lose proper position, the violin tilts and the kiss falls. Keep form, and you earn a treat.

Or the yogurt lids — a hitting-improvement gadget pioneered by the late legendary baseball coach Marvin “Towny” Townsend of Tidewater Little League in Virginia Beach, VA. The yogurt lids are used in the place of balls; the “pitcher” stands a few feet away and flips the lids at the waiting batter frisbee-style; they have to hit a small, curving, speeding object. Because they’re plastic lids, you can have batting practice indoors, in a tiny space, and make a lot more swings to boot.

These kinds of gadgets — inexpensive, simple, innovative — can have more effect on learning than a raft of fancy theories or classes. I also like them because of the larger message: good practice methods aren’t something that’s handed down from on high — they’re something you invent, figure out with what’s at hand, or borrow from others.

So the question is, what’s your gadget?

PS — big thanks to reader Angel Sanz for pointing this out: http://youtu.be/zhcMH27TqZY


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16 Responses to “What’s Your Gadget?”

  1. Sarah says:

    Another fabulous post, Daniel. I coach my son’s basketball team and love the idea of goggles. I will be experimenting with the idea with my piano students as well. (To keep their eyes up on their music)

    Thanks!

  2. Great post, Dan.

    Goggles and the like, when you think about it, are the opposite of what are so ubiquitous these days, namely objects, apps, and other things designed to make things easier.

    Goggles and gadgets like you write about here make things HARDER, which nudge us, as you observe, to the sweet spot on the edge of our ability.

    Renowned psychologist Mihalyi Csikszetmihalyi writes about that very thing in his book The Evolving Self. I think you and your readers especially would be interested in Chapter 8, which is about the kind of person Csikszentmihalyi calls “transcenders,” i.e those who find enjoyment in exploring the limits of their abilities and trying to expand them – and live their lives doing just that.

    It’s much of what my current post is about – you might want to have a look.

    Good to be on constant look out for metaphorical goggles, you know?

    Well done, as always.
    Susan

  3. gpo says:

    My daughter swims. Some kids will put a water bottle on their forehead and do a lap of backstroke. The trick is not to let the bottle fall. It promotes keeping your head still. My 10 year old hasn’t master it, but has been able to do it using a much flatter object.

  4. Walter Stemberg says:

    Eye patches for soccer. We have the kids warm up with them. They all have a ball and dribble around with an eye patch. It’s very difficult. Not only does it work their nervous system, but it teaches them to turn their heads and look for on coming players in their “blind spot”. After 3 minutes they switch to the other eye and we do some shooting drills. Once the patch is taken off the kids cannot believe how much easier everything is to do now that they are using both eyes again. It’s a simple pirates eye patch that you can get at a dollar store that really helps their ball control and overall game.
    My next door neighbours son is a hockey freak. His 12 year old son if often seen working on his wrist shot with hockey pucks on the driveway. Only catch however is he has 2.5 pound “wrist weights”. He takes wrist shots for about 15 minutes and once the wrist weights are taken off his wrists, that puck flies over the net from about 40 feet out! Impressive for a 12 year old

  5. Dale says:

    Pistol Pete Maravich used to dribble out the passenger side window as his dad drove him slowly around the neighborhood. I juggle with my reading glasses on. Fun post, Daniel.

  6. Philip Simmonds says:

    Young Russian hockey players use half blades on there sticks to improve there passing and stick handling!

  7. Ryan Hockman says:

    Dan,

    Nice post. Those goggles can be found in retail sporting goods stores. I have two gadgets I like to use with my QB clients:

    1. When I have clients who get flat footed in the pocket, I make them wear a gadget that was intended as an aide in catching the football with the fingertips. The gadget is a tiny tennis ball with an elastic strap. I make QBs wear on the bottom of their feet toward the heel. That way they know when their heel strikes the ground.

    2. The other tool I use is also for QB pocket awareness and is called “The Blocker”, used in boxing. It is a 24″ stick with a soft foam pad at the end. I use it to hit QBs during throwing drills and pocket drills. Since we don’t hit QBs during training, this helps them block out distractions when throwing.

  8. liz garnett says:

    Working with ensemble singers who (to use a cliche) are their own instrument, I have a technique I use in coaching all the time that works like this, but without any extra kit. A behavioural gadget, if you like.

    We call it ‘bubbling’ – also known as the lip trill – i.e. singing to a continuous ‘brrrr’ made with the lips (not with the tongue). It does a lot of things at once, both technical and musical:
    – it forces the singer to supply an effective airflow to fuel the voice
    – it reduces tension in the face and jaw
    – it brings resonance forward
    – it requires singers to conceptualise the music in terms of melodic phrase rather than content of lyrics
    – it makes the singers listen harder to each other in order to keep together

    I have also found that the need to demonstrate the technique keeps me challenged!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    As I am reading this I am thinking of my daughter learning guitar. I wonder if putting a hand weight on her wrist while she practices would not create the same affect as some of the examples above? She is a vocal performer (at Septien) who has just picked up the guitar and is needing to be an exceptional player in record time. Any thoughts on the subject? Thank you for this post, it is very thought provoking, as are all your posts! So glad your book is required reading there.

  10. Arek says:

    My piano teacher would probably freak out at this post altogether and automatically bring up Shumann’s hand injury thing (No, this is not a place to discuss the veracity of the Shumann’s Fingers story). I don’t feel that strongly about gadgets. I may give those half goggles a try for piano practice in fact. However, it does seem that tricks – and much more so gadgets – can easily fall to extremes and best be kept in proper perspective.

    I frequently like to turn all lights off and play piano in a very dark room. I find it helpful in many ways – it helps me relax and really hear / feel the music, it clearly yet gently brings out how much I’ve internalized the music of the piece. At a recent class recital however, everything seemed so damned bright! Haha! It was weird. I made it through after flubbing one small part, but next time, I’m definitely doing final practice sessions in a setting that emulates the performance environment more, as it’s unlikely they will oblige me by turning all lights off.

    So, I guess I have mixed feelings about the subject. The idea of a gadget gently coaxing the body to train itself to compensate for certain factors is intriguing. An external device “forcing” some contrived repetitive action strikes me as ill-conceived.

    To “liz garnett”: Yeah! Agreed: The “brrr” singing exercise is the best ever ever! And no gizmo needed to strap to your body.

    Here’s a great gadget: “Relax”.

  11. Arek says:

    Haha. Oops “Schumann”.

  12. Jonathan says:

    Wore baggy shirts and shorts during swimming practice for extra resistance. Just be careful of chaffing. ;)

  13. liz garnett says:

    Arek: Your practising in the dark was recommended by CPE Bach (though he didn’t call it a gadget), so you’re in good company there.

    Dan: This post has sparked a follow-up on my blog: http://www.helpingyouharmonise.com/gadget

    Please take that as a compliment! You are giving us all some great ideas to think with. (I must remember also to thank the guy who recommended your book to me.)

  14. djcoyle says:

    Hey Liz, Very cool — thanks for sharing the blog. As someone who’s found harmonizing a complete mystery, I’m inspired. Thanks.

  15. Nick Crosby says:

    I was wondering how these very physical activities and ‘gadgets’ could be adapted for those working in offices, doing research, reading, writing etc… Any ideas?

  16. Alex says:

    Interesting, I had done that already but to have confirmation it’s great. Going to try the pirate eye-patch.

    Some I’ve seen for soccer that I think are good:

    - Defensive line tied so they move as a block.
    - Tennis ball for juggling.
    - 2kg Weights to train dribble speed (Cristiano Ronaldo).

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