Monday, September 13, 2010
Book Review: Why Michael Couldn't Hit
By Klawans, Harold L., M.D.
Published April 1998
I picked up this book after seeing it referenced on an blog entry of Eric Cressey's. The book is an examination of sports neurology by a neurologist.
"Sports neurology?" Pretty much. He examines cases such as Wayne Gretzky's reaction time, Lou Gehrig's ALS progression, the return from polio to sprinting gold medals of Wilma Rudolph, and many others. Especially interesting are why Muhammad Ali has parkinson's disease-like symptoms from too many punches and the title case - why Michael Jordan couldn't hit a major-league baseball.
The author keeps the information flowing and the stories entertaining. Sometimes they flow into each other oddly, but the stories are all interesting.
As for training value, there isn't much direct value. Inspiring stories, yes. Tragic ones, yes, them too. But this is a classic example of "too late!" By the time you read this, it's already too late for you to spend your youth practicing the motions required to perform sports skills at a professional level. The fact is - as Michael Jordan found out, resulting in the name of the book - is that unless a sports skill is grooved and trained at a young age while your brain is still plastic, you can't ever fully master it. You'll never be able to improve enough, athleticism and similar sports skills aside. This "critical period" is the same one that's postulated for language learning. It starts to taper off young, like around 7, and seems to end close to puberty. Once you're set to procreate, you've lost your chance to really learn skills at a very high level. Depressing, eh?
The book is 12 years old by this point, so it's a little dated in spots. There is a great bit about how we know that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is superior to chest compressions for CPR - yet the recent trend has been towards compressions only. So it's funny to hear someone explain what we "now know" only to know that the accepted wisdom has changed already.
Content: 3 out of 5. Very interesting information on neurology, not much that can be directly applied to training. Slightly dated.
Presentation: 4 out of 5. Well-written and a fast read.
Overall: While it's a bit dated, there are a lot of great stories in here. You get a good idea of what the neurological underpinnings of sports performance are. And sadly, why it's already too late for you to do much with that knowledge by the time you're old enough to read this book. Sigh. Still, very interesting despite the lack of training information!