16
Jan
09

Larry Fitzgerald Is Really Good at Football


Larry Fitzgerald is an awesome receiver for the Arizona Cardinals who is able to make circus catches look routine and who I always expect to come down with the ball when it is thrown his direction. It turns out, according to a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, that Fitzgerald had a couple of unique things as a kid that very likely directly lead to his success today.

As a boy growing up, Fitzgerald’s grandfather (left) owned and operated an optometry shop, and Larry used to spend summers there with his grandfather. Larry’s grandfather, Dr. Robert Johnson made sure that as a child Larry had “visual dominance” in order to help Larry initially at school. From first grade on, whenever he’d visit his grandfather in Chicago during the summers Johnson would have him stand on balance beams and wobbly boards while doing complicated hand-eye drills. Later the exercises were more tailored to athletics, for example, Johnson would hang a painted ball from the ceiling and have Fitzgerald hit the ball with a rolling pin that had corresponding colors.

This is only part of the reason why Fitzgerald, who isn’t the fastest or the strongest receiver on the field is usually the best one. One other major factor, according to Dr. Joan Vickers of the University of Calgary who studies the eye movements of elite hockey goaltenders, baseball hitters, and tennis and volleyball players by making them wear special goggles and having them perform their sports. It is her assumption that part of Fitzgerald’s success comes from what she terms “predictive control,” or the brain’s ability to gather information from the eyes and use it to predict what will happen next.

Elite athletes, such as Fitzgerald are able to make a snapshot of the moment the ball or puck is released, enabling them to gauge where and when the ball will be near them, often from just the moment the ball leaves the QB’s hands. Taking that conception of where the ball is supposed to travel, the elite athlete then matches it in his brain with the thousands of memories of other, similar moments and how the ball traveled and then are able to place themselves in position to properly catch the ball. According to her research, the best athletes are able to move to the position, even with their eyes closed. “It’s a very, very amazing cognitive skill,” she says. This helps explain why often, photographs of Fitzgerald grabbing a ball out of the air feature him with his eyes shut.

One other factor that has most likely indirectly led to Fitzgerald’s success is his time as a ball boy on the sidelines for the Minnesota Vikings. For 6 years as a teenager, Fitzgerald was able to see the NFL game up close and see star receivers like Cris Carter and Randy Moss react to passes which likely has filtered into his unconscious memory bank that helps him figure out where a pass will go.

“I don’t know how he makes those catches,” says Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, “but there’s no doubt Larry has an ability to catch a ball that is special.”

[WSJ]


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