Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Space in Sport
I have been thinking about space, lately. This is not a “Star Trek” space, not “The Final Frontier”. But space in sports, and its importance. Space is critical in all areas of sport, and certain athletes know how to utilize it better than others. Most successfully.
Rob Gronkowski is a tight end for the New England Patriots. He is a massive guy, six and a half feet tall, more than 250 pounds. Because of injury, he was missing from the Patriots’ lineup for several games. A couple of weeks ago, he returned to the game, and his impact was critical. He creates space because of his size. He also creates space because of the way he moves. He knows how to work defenders, and he can move laterally across a goal line, and snare a pass, leaving middle linebackers in his wake. And it helps to have a guy like Tom Brady to zip the ball into Gronk’s catching zone.
It also helps to have other good receivers to take the heat off Gronkowski, occasionally. Julian Edelman is tiny, relative to Gronkowski. Five feet, ten inches tall, and less than 200 pounds. But he has learned to find space on the field as a wide receiver, and Brady finds him as well. He is virtually a carbon copy of Wes Welker, another small receiver who bolted from the Pats to join Payton Manning in Denver.
On the other side of the field, there are certain defensive players who excel in using space effectively. Troy Polamalu roams around the defensive backfield for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has done that effectively for many years. He is also tiny, relative to the other players in the NFL. He has been a Pro Bowl player eight times, and has more than 700 tackles to his credit in his career. He sticks opponents when he tackles; some coaches refer to the process as tackling through a player. He makes you keep your head up.
Wayne Gretzky mastered a few space techniques in hockey. He could find open spaces better than anyone else when he played the game. Part of it came from his brilliant anticipation, part from his skills. Certain snipers also have a sense of space: Brett Hull and Steven Stamkos come to mind. They locate themselves in an open space on the ice, and prepare to shoot. It also helped Hull to have someone like Adam Oates to feed him the puck. In a whisper, the puck was in the net.
Bobby Orr and Bobby Hull created space for themselves with their skating ability, and their strength. Quite often, they would wind up behind their own net, pick a lane or two, and rush up the ice to create scoring opportunities. Their speed helped them swoop around defencemen, leaving goaltenders at their mercy. Gordie Howe created space for himself with his size, and, of course, with his elbows!
Gordie, placing his famous elbow in my gut.
Bob Gibson hurled for the St. Louis Cardinals. He let it be known that home plate was his. He had a message pitch for any player who tried to occupy any space over home plate, after stepping into the batter’s box. Gibson would throw the next pitch at his head. More than ninety miles an hour. Certainly a dangerous practice, not intended to injure, but just to relay an idea: “I own home plate”.
Michael Jordan created space with his athleticism, and his anticipation. Shaq did it with his size. LeBron James does it with size and skill, making him the best player in the game today. His move back to Cleveland has rejuvenated the spirit of the Cavalier fans. A tip of the hat to a former Boston Celtics player, Bill Russell, who had a pretty good night many years ago. Thirty points and forty rebounds in one game. You read that correctly. No doubt that Russell created a little space for himself under the basket!
Always worth the price of admission!!
November 10, 2014