The media, experts, and seeing what we want to see

Yesterday, I read a somewhat entertaining article on ESPN about baseball scouts. Of all the red flags that Jerry Crasnick identified, this statement stuck out:

In a perfect world, an athlete’s toes point straight ahead or slightly inward, so duck feet are generally regarded as a red flag.

“You don’t like to see a shortstop or middle-infield prospect who walks like a duck,” [Red Sox special assistant Eddie]┬áBane says. “That goes to athletic ability. It’s a speed thing.”

This is conventional wisdom. I remember a friend of my dad’s watching me shoot when I was in middle school and remarking about my slight pigeon-toedness that at least I didn’t have duck feet. Duck feet equaled a lack of athleticism, as expressed by the scout above.

Tonight I clicked on another ESPN article. The article was about the beauty of sports and included this picture at the top.

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100m sprinters are generally considered to be fast. Look at the runners with their feet on the ground. The runner in yellow has his feet pointed almost straight ahead, but slightly out. The runner in blue, however, has major duck feet. The runner in yellow to the far left looks like he is going to land with his feet externally rotated. Three of the 5 runners from a 100m final have duck feet, which a baseball scout equates with a lack of speed and athleticism.

The comment made in the baseball article stuck out in my mind because one of the speakers at the Boston Sports Medicine and Performance Group conference made the same point (I believe he mentioned Tyson Gay, in the center lane above). He mentioned the conventional wisdom (duck feet = slow), and then mentioned watching a world-renowned sprinter (Gay) sprinting in the Olympics with his feet pointed out.

If scouts (coaches, general managers, etc.) make decisions based on conventional wisdom and these well-known red flags despite evidence to the contrary (Is Gay slow and nonathletic), are we short-changing or eliminating potential athletes for the wrong reasons? As coaches, are we trying to change flaws that maybe do not need to be changed?

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