Augmenting, interacting, reflecting

Helping with a shoe lace

I have revisited Douglas Engelbart’s 1962 paper Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (link). I did so after Mark Upton shared links with me to Dan McQuillan’s Towards an anti-fascist AI (link) and Joi Ito’s (2018) Resisting Reduction manifesto (link).

Joi’s manifesto includes reference to Norbert Wiener’s 1950 The Human Use of Human Beings (link). (By coincidence, I have been researching Norbert’s work in cybernetics for a paper I have been writing about computer science in sport developments in Russia.)

Another nudge in this direction came from an alert to Ben Shneiderman’s (2019) Encounters with HCI Pioneers (link). It is Ben’s personal history of the intellectual arguments and people he encountered.

The final impetus for this post came from a Stephen Downes post today (link) that concludes “We can discuss ethics, we can refer to them – but you can’t make people ethical – at least, not in the sense that everybody is ethical in exactly the same way everyone else is ethical. And if you depend on this in order to succeed, you won’t succeed.” (Original emphasis)

I see all of these links as important prompts to explore our taken-for-grantedness views of the world. Joi points out “the paradigms that set our goals and drive the evolution of society today have set us on a dangerous course”. This would include, I think, a consideration of how the discipline Douglas envisaged aimed at understanding and harnessing “neural power” might be sufficiently reflective to pose questions about it own paradigmatic certainty.

I take this to be the essence of Dan McQuillan’s argument about artificial intelligence (AI):

AI is political. Not only because of the question of what is to be done with it, but because of the political tendecies of the technology itself. The possibilities of AI arise from the resonances between its concrete operations and the surrounding political conditions. By influencing our understanding of what is both possible and desirable it acts in the space between what is and what ought to be.

He concludes:

Real AI matters not because it heralds machine intelligence but because it confronts us with the unresolved injustices of our current system. An antifascist AI is a project based on solidarity, mutual aid and collective care. We don’t need autonomous machines but a technics that is part of a movement for social autonomy.

These are profound issues for us. Sport has to be part of this debate about how we might all flourish in changing times. I take Stephen’s point about different ethical views of the world that inform our practices. I am hopeful that the ‘collective care’ Dan mentions can give us a shared journey embedded in the harmony discussed by Joi.

Photo Credit

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

Richard, Neil and Charles

Last week, I had the good fortune to correspond with Richard Pollard. Our email exchange coincided with the publication of Richard’s most recent paper titled Invalid Interpretation of Passing Sequence Data to Assess Team Performance in Football: Repairing the Tarnished Legacy of Charles Reep (2019) (link).

Richard Pollard

I have been following Richard’s work since the publication of his paper on skill and chance in ball games co-authored with Charles Reep and Bernard Benjamin in 1971 (link).

I will write a much more detailed post about Richard’s work but in this brief post I want to affirm his part in the story of the emergence of the observation, notation and analysis of performance in association football.

Along with Neil Lanham, Richard is a custodian of Charles Reep’s experiences as a football analyst. Both have a vital role to play in demystifying Charles’ place in a history of ideas and practices.

Richard’s statistical insights and vision over the last forty years combined with Neil’s experience of recording oral traditions (link) make it possible to compile a rich account of their experiences in the early years of football analysis.

Neil Lanham

Neil has a book awaiting publication that, like Richard’s 2019 paper, should address some of the profound misconceptions about Charles’ work and locate it within Neil and Richard’s involvement in analysis (link).

Like Richard and Neil, I believe Charles’ work has been misrepresented and unfairly demonised. I hope to continue to share accounts of Richard, Neil and Charles’ work in the spirit of Sam Wineburg’s suggestion that each generation “must answer for itself anew why the study of the past is important” and “remind us why history can also bring us together” (link).

I did meet Charles at his home in Torpoint but did not make it to his shed. I am immensely grateful to Richard for sharing this picture of Charles with his archive of papers at the bottom of his garden. Somewhere in there is his roll of wallpaper that is a hand notation of the 1958 World Cup final that Charles notated in real time at the final. He transcribed his A4 paper notations onto a roll of wallpaper in an attempt to capture the flow of a game that had seven goals and included two goals scored by Pele (link).

There is no record of what happened to this archive. We can do much better with his legacy.

A photograph of Charles Reep in his garden shed with his archive of papers.
Charles Reep at home

Ball not in play

Ray Williams’ book Rugby for Beginners was published in 1973. I first read it as a postgraduate physical education student at Loughborough College. By coincidence, Ray had been a student there too. Both of us were from North Wales.

Years later when I got to know Ray, I was able to explain how important the book was to me in my development as a player, teacher and coach.

The cover of Ray Williams' book.

Huw Richards (link) wrote about Ray’s career and noted his appointment as the Welsh Rugby Union’s first national coaching advisor. In that role he “drove that transformation through his promotion of conferences, teach-ins and courses which gave Wales more than 300 qualified coaches by the mid-1970s”.

I was fortunate to be one of those coaches and delighted in late night conversations with Ray in the bar of the National Sports Centre at Sofia Gardens in Cardiff. It was like being with the Oracle at Delphi.

One conversation became quite heated. I asked Ray about a line in his book that suggested “no player has the ball in his hands for more than one minute” in a game. The essence of Ray’s argument was that each player had a responsibility to support the ball (one of Ray’s game principles).

Even at my time playing rugby at Loughborough, I was sure I did not have the ball in my hands for that amount of time. I suggested to Ray that I ought to investigate what time the ball was in play and not in play.

I did follow up on this for the much of the next two decades. My operational definition of ball in play time was when the game was started and restarted by the referee either by a whistle or when the play was put back into play. Ball out of play was measured by a referee’s whistle or when the ball visibly left the field of play or was waiting the restart of the game.

It took some time to stabilise the recording of ball in play time. I monitored ball in play time from live broadcasts. One of my first successful attempts was on 16 January 1982, in what was then the Five Nations rugby tournament. Scotland played England at Murrayfield in a game refereed by Ken Rowlands (Wales).

  • The first half game time was 42 minutes and 33 seconds. The ball was in play for 10 minutes 28 seconds.
  • The second half game time was 44 minutes. The ball was in play for 13 minutes 10 seconds.
  • In the whole game, the ball in play time was approximately 27% of the available time.

It took me a further three years to develop a template to record each passage of ball in play in real time in addition to the other data I was collecting with hand notation. From this time on I termed passages of ball in play activity cycles.

My record of the Scotland v Wales game played on 2 March 1985 (video link) was:

For the first time, I was able to have a detailed account of game play. I recorded 97 distinct activity cycles (49 first half, 48 second half). Scotland had 52 of these (25 first half, 27 second half) and Wales 45 (24 first half, 21 second half). The game was refereed by Rene Hourquet of France. Wales won 25 points to 21 points.

The activity cycles were:

My record of the 97 activity cycles indicates a total ball in play time of 25 minutes 46 seconds (12 minutes 01 seconds first half, 13 minutes 45 seconds second half). Scotland had 13 minutes 20 seconds of ball possession and Wales 12 minutes 26 seconds.

I shared these data with Ray and we corresponded about the implications of such data for coaching and playing. I continued to share my data with him and he in turn passed it on to colleagues in coaching.

I have returned to these data this week as I researched the concept of dwell time (link). I was delighted to discover that Herbert Levinson (1983) was undertaking similar real-observations of performance … in the context of transit travel times. He concluded “transit performance should be improved by keeping the number of stopping places to a minimum”. That sounds like a fascinating pedagogical insight for rugby union.