Monday, February 12, 2024

Play-by-play commentary as a cognitive and linguistic act

I’m not much interested in football, or in sports generally. When I was in secondary school, I spent five years in marching band and, as a consequence, went to every football game. Since I was there at the game, I watched it of course. What else was I to do? And since I was there to support my school’s team, I rooted for them. I figure that’s, say, a third to a half of my exposure to football. The rest is through watching a game here and there on TV and a movie or three. In recent years I’ve seen fragments of fictional games while binging Friday Night Lights. But that’s pretty much it for my football experience. Oh, one thing, in gym back in school we’d play touch football.

But yesterday, Superbowl Sunday, if figured, “Why not?” So I decided to watch the game. I got the time wrong and entered at half-time, but then I watched the rest of the game, including the overtime. I also played solitaire now and then on my smart phone.

But this isn’t about the game. It’s about real-time commentary. These days the talk is accompanied by replays and drawing lines and circles on the TV screen to point out what’s going on. Very interesting.

What’s really interesting is that it’s all happening in real time. My actual experience of the game, as I’ve indicated above, is rather thin. While I more or less know the rules of the game and what the players are trying to accomplish, I don’t see the action with the detail and precision of a good play-by-play commentator. Those guys – it’s mostly guys, no? – have spent thousands of hours watching games and so have built up a rich repertoire of perceptual schemas which I don’t have. That’s what allows them to see the game in such detail.

By way of comparison, I am a very skilled jazz musician. I’ve spent thousands of hours listening to and playing jazz (and other music). I’ve built up a very rich repertoire of schemas that allow me to hear the detail in great detail. I can pinpoint things that others miss, even people who know a great deal and have listened a lot, but are not players. It’s pretty much the same kind of thing as those play-by-play commentators, just in a different arena.

And then there’s the commentary itself. They have to pick up what’s happening on the field, comment while it’s happening, and then amplify and extend those comments between plays. How do they do that? Practice, years of practice. I imagine that when they started, they weren’t nearly as fluid. But, with time and practice, fluency came. That too is like jazz. It takes time and practice to build up a repertoire of riffs, motives, and strategies you can use in crafting a solo.

I’m thinking that this is all Kahneman’s System 1 performance, fast and intuitive. THAT’s what this post has been about.

No comments:

Post a Comment