Prepare the sails
We cannot change the direction of the wind
The good sailor understands that she can exercise no control over the wind or the waves, but on the sails. The good sailor understands that she is in an uncertain, dynamic and variable situation and his role is to adapt to it. The good mechanic is a great source of machinery knowledge. She knows all the parts and chains and in her workshop she lives with closed and little uncertain and changing situations. Most of phenomena in sports, health and life take place in environments more similar to the high seas in which the sailor navigates than to the mechanic's workshop. We live in a complex world in constant change in which there is the need of keep sailing and adjusting sails, because we can't control the wind.
Imagine you are in the middle of a slackline and your success depends on maintaining stability in order to reach the other end. What is your equilibrium position? Is it rigid or flexible? Is it a single position or a set of moves? Success —maintaining stability— depends on moving constantly the body limbs —adjusting the sails of the boat—, not on controlling the instability of the slackline —the direction of the wind—. Getting to the other side depends on change, on adapting to each moment. Rigidity in no way helps us succeed. We live in a dynamic, not static, world. Welcome the change and adapt to it. This is life, people, sport, health: constant change, constant adjusting of sails. The waves and the wind cannot be controlled. Whoever understands it first and adapts to it, will win.
Heraclitus summed it up for us very well.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he is not the same man. There is nothing permanent except change.”
And a similar reasoning is used by Jorge Wagensberg.
“Despite not keeping in our body a single molecule from our childhood body, we consider ourselves the same person.”
What makes us survive is change.
And sport does not escape from it. Coach, as the wind changes, you must adjust your sails: technique, tactics, drills... And this is what sport constantly does: adjust sails according to physical capabilities, technological advances, changes in regulations, etc. As happened with the Fosbury Flop and the straddle technique in athletics, a modification in the rules can cause that today “extraordinary”, may be “normal” tomorrow and the following year, forgotten.
Joel Wertheimer explained how the regulation is also not exempt from this process of change, and causes an important cascade of effects. Throughout history, the uncertain and variable world of basketball has changed a lot: there have been many changes in the direction of the wind. An example was the addition of the three-point line or the possession clock. These changes caused the teams to adjust their sails by changing the style of play —predominantly the fast game and the importance of good outside shooters—, the creation of squads, the plays used, the types of training and exercises... among many others. Now they want to influence the direction of the wind again and start talking about the 4-point line. Without moving away from dynamic sports, football has also had to adjust sails on numerous occasions. The change in scoring in victories —from 2 to 3 points— promoted more offensive styles of play, the ban on passing the ball to the goalkeeper and him catching it with his hands meant that the latter had to be able to play with the feet, to have more skills, at the same time that the rivals began to press much more in the opposite field complicating the conservative game. We could spend hours talking about all the sports, their changes in the direction of the wind and how they have self-organized to adjust sails. In the case of padel, they changed the dimensions of the court by reducing the size of the fences, they changed the scoring system by adding the golden point, they made the balls lighter so they flight faster... and the sport has evolved by leaps and bounds. The best thing we can do is listen to Nassim Taleb: He already warned that only the self-taught will be free, those who adapt first.
But... the only cause that can influence the direction of the wind is not the changes in the regulations, we have to consider many other factors. A particular sport continues to evolve as the players themselves improve and bring new skills, forcing new generations to continue to change and adapt: Saarinen, Rossi and Márquez showed us well how this and the technological advances influence the sport. A particular move may be effective in the present moment but in no case does this guarantee that it will also be effective in a future moment.
For example, the 3-pointer rule in basketball was added a long time ago: in 1969. However, the 3-point shot has been changing every single day: In the 1980-81 season, the average three-pointers attempted per team in a game was 2,2, while in 2020-21, it was 34,7. A similar case has happened with the success rate of these shots: from 22,2% to 36,7%. The rule change that happened in 1969 has something to do with it, yes. But the main reason of it has been the improvement in defense by the vast majority of teams —mainly due to improvements in physical abilities— has meant that there are fewer and fewer free spaces, a greater need to create more with the obligation to play faster to achieve it. This fact has promoted a much faster game and other co-lateral effects such as the pass or the shot on dribble reducing the time that the players have the ball in their hands. Today's basketball doesn’t allow you to waste time —as it happened in the basketball of the 60s— and this has caused teams and players to change, adjust sails and find new ways to win. Staying still, not changing... is not an option.
What causes sailors to adapt and improve? It can be done by technological advances in ship design, in devices that allow better perception of weather conditions... but also, as it was pointed out before, the fact that the sailor next dock is better at adjusting sails and navigating, causes all his colleagues in the profession do not demand less in order not to be left behind. A change in technology or in the rules will promote a change in the game, just as the constant adaptation to the need to win will also cause everyone to adjust their sails.
In the vast majority of sports, we find masters of change and adaptation. Serena Williams and her coach Richard Williams taught us a great lesson with the forehand open stance, placing the feet parallel to the baseline. When everyone would complain about seeing a tennis player hitting a forehand in that position, she and her father began to change —to adjust sails— because it gave to Serena more power and time against the opponent. Nowadays —as has happened with the Fosbury Flop or with the body position in MotoGP— most players can be observed using the “open stance” hitting forehand shots. In the world of padel we also find countless lessons that we cannot control the direction of the wind, that we can only adjust the sails. One of them is Pablo Lima, a player characterized by a smash that causes the ball fly out of the court. A shot that, until very recently, was a winner. In today's padel, most players find it very easy to leave the court and continue playing the ball after a smash of this type —it can even be counterproductive. This hit is no longer as offensive as it was a few years ago. The Brazilian player has understood this well enough and —intelligently— adjusted his sails: nowadays, he can be seen developing a much more defensive and consistent game, leaving the offensive aspect to his teammate and reducing, more and more, this kind of smash.
We have seen several factors that cause sport to be a dynamic—not static—phenomenon, which does not stop changing. Many factors can cause changes in wind direction. The environment, the climatic conditions, the latitude... is another. The fact that Madrid doesn't have a beach doesn't just affect tourism or is the cause of a funny song, it has many other consequences. Not being at sea level, the Madrid marathon will never be as fast as the Barcelona one. The opposite happens with the padel, the conditions in Madrid make the ball spin faster and higher, giving rise to a more explosive game that Barcelona cannot make emerge, at least until now. The direction of the wind changes and athletes adjust sails: they adapt training methods and playing styles. A certain environment can cause the same sport —in a matter of weeks— to have two very different faces.
When winds of change blow, some people create walls and others build mills. Complexity and dynamism is always here, it is the nature of this world. You can decide whether to play for or against you. Trying to control the wind by clinging to certainties, static answers, will not help you; by adjusting sails at each moment, learning new skills and embracing change, you can better deal with this natural uncertainty.
One of the most significant things that a coach can feel is that her lessons on the training leave a positive impact outside of it. Sport and life are constantly changing, let's help them to assume and deal with it. We can make this variability play in their favor. Do we help the learner by promoting the belief that there is only one way to do things? Do we help the student progress if we penalize her when she does something different? Why does everyone have to use the same technique? Why do we use closed tactics? Is there only one way to sail, to adjust sails? Do we contribute to his growth by telling her the direction of the wind so that she can adjust the sails without mistake taking from her the chance of perceiving and learning it?
In the world of sport —as with health— stability is achieved through change; in order to maintain an optimal state of health, our body has the —undervalued— ability to adapt: to constantly compensate according to the person and her environment. We like to cling to staticity —we think things are only one way— in order to deal with uncertainty. We prefer closed and static responses to open and dynamic ones: we want the doctor to give us the medicine and tell us what to do instead of open guidelines in order to try to improve our body awareness and be able to self-regulate our lifestyle without the need for an external “boss”. That we have this capacity is shown by homeostasis and allostasis. The former is the body's ability to maintain a constant and stable state, the constant regulation of all functions that allows us to survive in highly variable conditions. The latter suggests that organisms are able to anticipate needs before they happen, we can provide neurological, biological and immunological responses to the challenges we face. This gives us a better chance of survival in dynamic and unpredictable environments.
A medicine presupposes that stable habituated set-points —a prototype of an ideal person— exist. Then, we try that health indicators fit the values in order to be considered “healthy” or “sick”; this is what the pill aims to do when we take it. In reality, these stable habituated set-points do not exist. The ideal set-points are contextual: depending on the personal situation and the characteristics of the environment. The same applies to sport: stop trying to make all your players have the same habituated set-points, stop chasing the ideal athlete prototype and promote that everyone finds their best version in every moment. François Jullien explains that it is a trap we Europeans often fall into, thanks to the Greek influence. We think that efficiency is a model or an ideal form that we must pursue and achieve, we are obsessed with the end. On the other hand, in Chinese culture, effectiveness is conceived as something that should not be pursued or marked as a goal because it is built at every step: Not to seek it, but simply to welcome it-to allow it to result. Stop walking in pursuit of reference or perfect models, make your way at every step and build your perfection.
When the body receives a perturbation such as a virus, an infection, an injury —a change in the direction of the wind— it is able to adjust sails. As happens in the slackline: the body is able to recover its balance after instability. It is not the perfect posture, the rigidity, that allows you to cross the slackline; it is the ability to compensate, to re-balance... it is to adjust sails constantly.
I was curious about what Sergio de Régules explained about the temperature in Greenland. It turns out that, throughout history, there have been enormous temperature fluctuations on the earth and that, at a certain point, the Vikings had to emigrate from there due to a much lower temperature drop than what the planet was used to. That we are doing enormous harm to the planet, it is clear. I am quite convinced too that our intolerance of change and our love of clinging to static conditions is not helping us deal with climate change. Maybe it's that climate change forces us to change, maybe that's why we hate it so much and don't act.
“Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.”
What is true is that nothing is forever, as Benjamin Franklin points out. The crocodile that falls asleep becomes a wallet. The only way to keep walking is by accepting change and adapting. We are faced with high gusts of wind, let’s hold on tight and, as a society, adjust the sails and start to build mills, not walls.
“The affirmation “I would rather die than give up my identity” does not help to manage uncertainty.”
In general, I think we would be much happier if we wouldn’t try to control the wind, if we were less rigid and less stubborn, if change wasn't so frowned upon or we would encourage more to try new things. What is coherence with oneself? The rigidity of opinions and beliefs? Have you ever considered that it may be overrated? Why don't we contradict ourselves more? If the key is to constantly change and adjust sails in order to maintain balance and survive, can something as rigid as coherence or pride play against us? A reasonable amount of variability in our beliefs, in our way of being… will help us to be better as the world changes. Why can't we change beliefs/opinions as we get new information? Why so much fear of change? Why do things have to be one way for life? Why should we choose the vital career at 18? Or the political ideology in the first elections?
On countless occasions, I have heard persons wishing —with the best intentions in the world— to other loved ones to "never change". Can it be one of the wishes we make in good faith that result more counter-productive? We wish our loved ones to "never change" when the best we could make is to encourage them to try, to adapt, to be brave and to not be afraid of change.
Finding out we were wrong is an update, not a failure. It makes me happy to think that I learned the lesson at a young age and I embrace uncertainty and change as a life advantage. The basketball coach Sergio Scariolo and his "one can not be an asshole his whole life" give me hope. I am a little less asshole than yesterday but a bit more than tomorrow.
Martí Cañellas | Fosbury Flop
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