Monday, January 30, 2012

Catching the Pass; Photography

I think I need a second blog.  Obviously visitors to this one are here for the football and not much interested in the photography.  Which is great.  I'm here for the football, too.

Nobody cares how I made this picture.  I'm
hurt.  Well, not really.  Really it was an
accident.  The man is nowhere near the
receiver.  The receiver doesn't see him.
But I'm boring you...
But the photography is fascinating.  Like this photo I posted Saturday.  Didn't it amaze you?  Aren't you intrigued at how I managed to do that? 

I guess not.  I only had two blog visitors ask about it.  I thought I'd open today's posting and explain what happened.  But I don't want to bore you.  So, unless there's a groundswell of public outcry asking "How?" I'll just go about publishing cool photos and silly prose and privately enjoy the photographic stuff going on in the background.

Like the photos I'm posting today.  I wish I could convey some of my amazement as I sit at my computer with my photo editing software and examine hundreds of photos to see which ones are worthy of your time.  I'm shooting from twenty to fifty yards away from the players and yet getting clear images of facial expressions.   Amazing!

I'm using a Nikon D40 camera with a 300mm lens...  But you don't want to know all that.  Just show you the pictures.  And maybe start another blog for the few among us intersted in photography.

Today's pictures are from Saturday's practice.  I just zeroed in on that magic moment when the receiver catches the ball.  In a separate post I commented on all that has to happen in the human mind for the receiver to get the ball - the calculation of speed and direction of the ball and then speed route for the receiver.  It looks easy but it isn't.

And the facial expressions reflect just how difficult. 

I loved the yellow uniform.  Bright colors are so easy to
photograph.  Her facial expression conveys some of what
I've described - catching the ball is not easy.  Takes
concentration.  Focus.

If the ball is too tall you have to jump.  If you jump too
soon or too late, you'll miss it.  You can't see her eyes but
you can tell she is practicing the old rule of sports (and life)
"Keep you eye on the ball."

In the NFL a lot of passes are thrown low.  The intent is
that if the receiver doesn't make the catch, the ground will.
Better that than having the opposing team get it. 

I love this shot because it appears the receiver is fully
aware of what an accomplishment it is to catch the ball. 
Capturing her facial expression from thirty yards away is
amazing.  And you wonder what is she thinking.  I thought
of Tim Tebow when I first saw this photo.

A University of Michigan fan.  Getting a grip on the ball isn't
easy.  She is focused and she's going to make the catch.

And when you do make the catch there's a sense of satisfaction.
Put it away and do a success strut back to the quarterback.
You can't always do this during a game but in practice, you go girl.

Another expression of accomplishment
as she tucks the ball in and romps toward the goal line.

No way she'll miss this one.  Eyes on the ball.  Concentrating.

You really want to catch it with your hands but sometimes just have to hug that
ball to your chest and hang on.  A catch is a catch.  Are her eyes closed?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Practice - Fun

In my last post I talked about getting low for power.  The competitor who is lower has the advantage.  To illustrate, I suggested you go out in the driveway and attempt to push your car.  Remember? 

Just four Outlaws moving that truck.  Lily did contribute
to the drill - she sat behind the wheel and steered. 
And sometimes touched the brake a little just to
increase the challenge.
Would you believe part of the practice today for Outlaws linewomen was pushing a car?  Well, not a car, a small truck.  Four ladies pushed that truck up and down the parking lot for a good thirty minutes.  You will notice in the photo the natural way to gain maximum strength, maximum pushing power, is to get low. 

Now Lily didn't do this drill because of my blog post.  The Outlaws don't have a blocking sled and she cleverly came up with the push-a-truck drill as a reasonable facsimile.  But I'll have to admit I did think very positive thoughts about myself in that I had suggested this idea as recently as yesterday.

Today I want to post some miscellaneous stuff from this morning's practice.  I have one photo I can hardly wait for you to see.  It is either funny or eerie.  I'll let  you decide.  I said I can hardly wait but I'm going to wait until the end of the post.  Going to put a little miscellaneous stuff first.  Save the amazing funny eerie for last.  In television they call that a tease. 

There were some cool spectators at the practice today.  I've learned I can look like a good photographer if I select good subjects. 

I love close-up candids.  Not sure what she's thinking about
but she makes this post much better.

Pictures of kids always make me look like a good
photographer.  It's my secret, don't tell anyone.  I'm
really not very good.

I don't know the owner and apologize for making
this a picture of her dog.  Cute little jacket.
It was cold again this weekend.

Standing on rear legs for a better view of the practice.

Early season practice is basically no-contact.  No pads, no tackling, no blocking each other.   Well, except for some blocking drills where one person holds a blocking pad and another hits it.   If you've been to a pro game or close to the sideline at a college game you're aware of the sound of high-level football.  There are guttural noises as strong people put out maximum effort.  There's the sound of collisions.  We call it pads popping but "popping" doesn't adequately express it.

The blocking drill I watched wasn't particularly remarkable until two seasoned and serious competitors got across from one another.  Ski was holding the pad, Dikibo was hitting it.  Now Dikibo appears to be a quiet, soft spoken, gentlewoman.  Maybe she is.  But when she started hitting the pads, there was some serious popping. 

We need a sound track with this photo.  During the drill, Dikibo
hit Ski five times in a display of serious football.

I'm surprised the blocking pad survived the hitting.  There will be more on Dikibo and Ski in future posts.

Bobbie calling out words of encouragement.
Speaking of the sounds of football,
this is Bobbie, one of the coaches.  She is dynamic, energetic, full of fire and enthusiasm.  I've never seen her eyes because of the bill of that cap she always wears, but I have heard her voice. 

This reminds me of a poem about a church pastor:
"I never see my pastor's eyes,
He hides their light divine.
For when he prays he closes his
And when he preaches, mine."

That has absolutely nothing to do with the Outlaws but by now you've noticed I don't always stay on subject.  I was saying, the Outlaws work hard at generating enthusiasm.  Vocally.  Loudly.  It is part of the team DNA. 

There's another player who is becoming one of my favorites.  I don't remember her name.  Please refer back to a post I did a few months ago, "In Case I Forget".  But with or without her name I noticed she has that spark, that enthusiasm.  I can't always hear what she's saying but... well, take a look at this photo:

Calling for the ball?  Or yelling "Outlaws" as the players
do every time they hear a whistle or break a huddle.  Or
just doing a Tarzan yell to intimidate anyone who is
considering getting in her path.

Does she have the spirit?  I noticed she kept shouting as she ran her pass pattern.  She was inspiring herself.  She was inspiring others.  And she did catch the ball - watch for that on a future blog post.  Normally I shoot receivers when they get to the area where the pass will be thrown.  In her case, I started following her early because I wanted to capture some of the fire.

And that led to my amazing eerie funny photo.  The one I promised at the beginning of this posting.  My new best friend was just doing what she does... well, wait.  I think I'll just post the picture and see if you react the same way I did.

There was no man on the field.  No man anywhere near the unnamed receiver.  I don't know where this shadowy figure came from.  I don't even know if he was really there. 

Maybe you would like to explain it to me?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Whatever Happened to the Forearm Shiver?

Everything has changed since I played football.  Color television.  Computers.  Indoor plumbing.

Watching the Outlaws practice brings back memories of the way we did it back then.  And I keep wanting to put down my camera and demonstrate the right way.  The most interesting change is offensive line using their hands.   Lily coaching before the line blocking drill is showing how to use the hands. 

When I played the offensive line wasn't allowed to use hands.  So we kept our arms folded, hands near chest.  The surface we'd use to hit the opponent was our forearm.  When we practiced blocking, we'd get in the three-point stance and, at the snap of the ball, fire off the line smacking the defensive lineman with our forearms.

The goal was to drive the forearm into his chest with so much force his whole body would vibrate from the impact - hence the term forearm shiver. 

We would follow through with the shoulder so my head would go to one side of the defender's body, my shoulder and arm across his midsection, acting like a bar of steel driving him back and in whatever direction I wanted him to go. 

We never extended our arms.  And of course I think that was the better way to do things.  Having arms extended and hitting with hands seems to me to reduce the power at impact. 

But my way isn't the way football is played these days.  I watch the NFL games looking for examples of the forearm shiver and I never see any.  Partially because the defensive line doesn't stay put.  They present a moving target and you have to be mobile to get your block.

Football boils down to one-on-one contests, blocker versus tackler.  Strength versus strength.  Skill versus skill.  When you watch football notice the battles in the line. 

These photos are from the practice January 21. 

Being taller makes it difficult to hit low on the defender.

One thing upon which modern and ancient football experts agree is the importance of getting low.  Not down on the ground low (although sometimes that is prescribed).  But low so you are driving into the mid-section of the opponent.  To visualize this go out and attempt to push a car.  You don't stand up straight, you scrunch down and get your hands/shoulder at about the level of the tail lights.  Or pick up a friend about the same size as you.  You'll want to drape her over your shoulder with shoulder in the middle of her body.  Watch the way firefighters are trained to carry victims they rescue, over the shoulder.

Lower is better.  Lower maximizes your power.  Still lower is (apparently) unnatural.  In future posts I'll do more on this subject because it is so fundamental.  For now I want to highlight the problem of being taller than an opponent.  In the photo above the blocker is taller and has difficulty getting low on the blocking pad.

Below are photos of Q.T. attempting blocks on players not as tall as she.  The drill was a two-block drill.  Hit one defender, then roll away and hit a second.  Very difficult for a tall player to get low enough.  This is particularly true on the second block because the first impact upsets your balance.

Q.T. is aiming low.  In the old days she'd be trying to
hit the pad with her shoulder and right forearm.  She
is tall enough that I'm not certain she could get low enough.

I like the way this worked out.  The hands push the defender
to a more upright position.  If the defender is low, straighten
her up.  Q.T. isn't lower; she appears to have a stalemate on
lower/higher.  But also appears to be in a power stance.

But on the second block, her height becomes
a disadvantage.  The initial contact had the
defender lower.  And the defender definitely has
the advantage in this photo.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Practice - Passing; Cold Weather

A couple posts back featured Outlaws attired for cold weather.  I missed one.  The mystery woman here was ready for a cold practice.

To make up for missing her before, I'm having her lead today's post.  She participated in the pass receiving drill.  That drill provided some fun photos. 

Like this one, above.  She is going to catch it.  Look at the focus, eye on the ball.  Or  like the one below.  A pass too tall.  No chance of getting it.  Maybe if she were six inches taller?

I love shooting the pass receivers. Sometimes the receiver is leaping to reach for a ball sailing over her head. Sometimes stretching for a throw just out of reach.

Leaping high for a tall ball.

Tiffany, a defensive back who is normally knocking down
ball carriers.  I think she's going to make the catch here.
Ball isn't in the photo but I like the shot anyway. 

Most fun are those where the ball is home.  Receiver has it in her grasp.  The facial expression reflects her concentration.  An instant later it will be her satisfaction with  success.

This is Ski, the senior member of the team showing the
kids how it is done. 

Footballs are shaped funny.  They don't always arrive
in the perfect "catch" position.  So securing the reception
takes focus.

Still concentrating, making certain the catch is secure.

Got that baby.  Holding it like a baby.  Can't let it fall.
Note the 49ers sweatshirt.  Almost a Superbowl year.
Maybe the Outlaws will have a championship year?

Years ago I made a video inspired by "Psycho Cybernetics", a book by Maxwell Maltz about human capacity to achieve great things.  One of his illustrations was from baseball but the concept applies to the passing game in football.  For an outfielder, or pass receiver, to catch the ball, an amazing amount of calculation is going on.  The receiver has to gauge the speed the ball is traveling, the direction it is going, the distance it will travel based on the trajectory.  She has to calculate her own running speed and accurately predict where she'll need to be to meet the ball.  She has to determine whether she'll have to leap to get it and if so when to launch so she is at the correct altitude when the ball is.   All of this computing is done unconsciously and with lightning speed.  The ball will be in the air two or three seconds.

Following is a three-photo series of Gina Balin going through all of that calculation and catching the ball.  It may not look all that amazing because we see it repeated over and over.  But when you stop to think about it, to analyze it, it is truly amazing.

Here it comes.  Deciding where she has to be to make the
catch and heading that way.

Not a high jump but she did go airborne
to catch it.  Photographer's timing a tad off,
shooting just before her left foot leaves the ground.

Got it!
This is why I love the game so much.  I always marvel at what athletes do. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Blocking Practice

I love the expression.  This young Outlaw is throwing all she
has into the practice.  She is going up against a bigger
and probably stronger "opponent" and she isn't giving in. 
Vince Lombardi is credited with saying, "Football is not a contact sport, it's a collision sport - dancing is a contact sport." 

I've collected a lot of collision photos in recent Outlaws tryouts and practices.  In the January 14 tryouts Coach Narlen picked up the hand-held blocking target and invited prospective Outlaws to practice blocking  him. 

I've commented before about my love of the intensity athletes bring to sport.  It is difficult to convey that in still photos.

Facial expressions may give a clue. 

But not always.

Well, facial expressions may not always reflect intensity.  This is my
friend, Q.T..  I asked her real name but I'm old, bad memory.  I forget.
Q.T. is always working hard - maybe in our next post I'll offer more
proof of her dedication and hard work.  But her facial expression
doesn't say "intensity."  It says "happy." 
I like happy. 

Another clue is in the lead-in to the hit.  You can see intensity in the way the blocker takes a bead on the blocking pad and charges. 

Intensity, focus.  She's aiming at the opponent and getting
ready to drive into his middle - well, his blocking pad.
You can't hear the force of the hit in a photo but she's making
good solid contact. 

Note in these photos there is a ball carrier.  When the drill started it was just blocker versus blocking pad.  Coach decided to help blockers appreciate the importance of what they were doing by having the next-in-line carry the ball.  So the blocker could appreciate the importance of a good solid hit.  She's protecting her teammate with the ball.  I thought that was a good coaching technique.

Another blocker taking aim at the blocking pad, setting her shoulder
low for a good solid hit in the middle of the tackler.

And driving her shoulder into the target. 

We've talked a little about bein' big in football.  Sport in general rewards speed.  Football rewards both speed and body mass.  Normally the two don't come in the same athlete.  A smaller player may have difficulty dealing with a larger and stronger opponent.  But a quick runner may not need much help.  If the blocker can just distract the tackler, that's enough.  

The blocker looks to be about seventy pounds lighter than the
tackler.  But she's laying a good hit on him and her runner
looks quick enough that the block should be enough.

Still, a blocker being as big as or bigger than the tackler does make the tackler's job more difficult.

This blocker is big enough to keep the coach
occupied as long as necessary for the runner
to get past and down the field.  Bein' big can
be an asset in football. 

In two recent  posts I suggested the intensity of football sometimes leads to fights.  The heat of competition  involving physical strength and pushing competitors around can cause tempers to flare and fists to fly.  I wondered if football practice should include practice fighting.  Nah. 

Well... the two pictures that follow suggest maybe the blockers are thinking the way I do.    

Is she practicing her right jab?  Is that tear in the blocking pad a result of her punch? 

She's not really going to throw a right hook at the coach.  Or is she?

Blocking remains one of my favorite subjects.  Blocking gets less recognition than practically any other activity in football.  But it is often the key to gaining yardage, completing a pass, winning or losing.  Future blog posts will focus on blocking.