How to Anticipate Better (Step 1: Stand Still)


Anticipation is the king of talents, because it’s so mysterious and powerful. How does Sidney Crosby know just where the puck is going to end up? How does Larry Ellison know just when to close the deal? How does Clapton know just when to make that chord change?

The usual answer is that it’s some kind of instinctive magic — a sixth sense.

The real answer is that it’s high-speed pattern recognition: a learned ability to look at telltale signs and accurately guess where the action is headed. It’s not about instincts. It’s about information processing.

Check out this video for a beautiful example. It’s one of those Science of Sport shows where they analyze the abilities of world-class athletes — in this case, Cristiano Ronaldo, who’s a pretty fair soccer player.

Scroll ahead to 6:20, and you’ll see a remarkably cool experiment that reveals the source of Ronaldo’s true ability — his eyes and his brain. By watching body language, arc, and speed, he can calculate where the ball is going to be, even in pitch-black darkness.

So the question becomes, how do we improve the speed of our information processing?  A couple ideas:

  • 1) Eyes-Only Practice –  Set aside practice time where you focus just on absorbing information — sort of like an NFL player would view film. A baseball player could stand at the plate without a bat, tracking the flight of the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. A musician could watch a concert, trying to sense the architecture of each solo (ears instead of eyes, but you get the idea).
  • 2) Interrogate Top Performers – Seek out the best, and ask them to describe what’s going through their heads at key moments — what telltale signs they’re looking for. They won’t always be eloquent  — as Ronaldo shows — but his words and body language are still helpful and revealing.
  • 3) Do a Little Every Day – As the video shows, the anticipation is not something Ronaldo was born with, but rather a skill that he built over thousands of reps. Treat your observations the same. You won’t be good at the start, but each time you observe intensively and with a purpose, you’ll get better at figuring out what’s going to happen next.

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7 Responses to “How to Anticipate Better (Step 1: Stand Still)”

  1. Rod Roth says:

    Dan, My trading mentor always tells me to take my trade based on an entry signal and to exit based on feel. He is a past master at it. I’ve only recently begun to “let” myself do this. I can see now that his forty years of experience have given him many thousands of trades to be able to anticipate an optimum exit. Ronaldo’s execution is beyond superb. Thanks

  2. Garnet says:

    This reminds me of the story from ‘Bounce’ of a ping pong player who was renowned for his lightening quick reflexes. Except that when he was tested for reflex speed he was the slowest in the club. His ‘reflexes’ came from confined practice space as a youngster, training him to read his opponents body movements much like Ronoldo is doing here.

    Makes me wonder if the type of training you see this racing driver doing at 1:05 are actually very useful Will this make him a better driver, or just better at catching balls bouncing off the wall?

    btw almost finished TLBT, great book!

  3. djcoyle says:

    That is a terrific story — thanks for sharing it. It reminds me of the hockey games we used to play in our basement, which made us better players outside. No space and no time makes for a good result.

  4. Walter says:

    Speaking of ” no space and no time for a good result” FUTSAL! This is a traditional sport that the Brazilians brought to light. A huge chunk of the “Ronaldo’s” of the world play this game. Small area 4vs4 everything is touch and go no time to think no space etc. Hours and hours of futsal is a nice blueprint for a lot of these guys. BTW, if you haven’t seen the entire 1.5 Ronaldo experiment show, it’s a nice watch as you see what a great athelete this guy is with an amazing vertical jump explosive power and very agilie.

  5. Hersh says:

    Hey Daniel have you looked into Lumosity? It’s pretty cool stuff.

  6. Alex says:

    I’ve actually done this test as a training with my cousin, planning to do it again, better write on my to do list.

    One training I developed for myself when I was a kid was to block punches coming while I was looking away at the television. It helped my play as I become better able to see things around me without needing to look, it did made a bit harder for me to focus on classes on school though as it amplified my field of vision for distractions too.

  7. djcoyle says:

    I like that, Alex. Reminds me of Bill Bradley, the basketball player in the great book “A Sense of Where You Are,” who would walk down the street and try to improve his court vision by using his peripheral vision to name what was in the shop windows.

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