Turn your head: play better defense

Turn your head: play better defense – football defense

Jack C. Horn

Turn Your Head: Play Better Defense

IN THIS COLUMN last month, psychologist Richard Barthol told baseball teams how to get several more hits a game by changing their traditional batting practice techniques. This month he has some equally heretical advice for football coaches, advice he claims will improve pass defense by giving the defense a better shot at the ball.

You see it all the time: A receiver sprints down the field, with a defensive back close behind. The receiver looks over his shoulder, adjusts to where the ball is coming–right, left, over his head or underthrown, in which case he curls back fast to catch it.

The receiver often wins the battle because he sees where the ball is going. The defender doesn’t because he hasn’t turned his head. And why not? Because he’s heard these words of wisdom from every coach he’s ever had: “If you turn your head, you lose a step.” Peeking even a little is the ultimate defensive sin.

This idea, Barthol says, is nonsense. In experiments he and his assistants conducted with football players and other students, turning their heads didn’t make them lose speed. In fact, Barthol points out, “receivers always turn their heads. If this really made them lose a step, dozens of receivers would get run over by defenders every weekend.”

When Barthol talks to coaches about this, they insist that head-turning won’t work. Since the defender doesn’t know where and when the ball will be thrown, they argue, he’ll waste precious time looking for the ball and lose contact with the receiver. Not true, Barthol says. “There is no measurable elapsed time. You turn your head. There’s the ball.”

Once the ball is in the air, he points out, “it’s free. No more receiver and defender. Just two guys and the ball, and the ball is an equal opportunity employer. It doesn’t give a damn who catches it.”

But the way defensive backs are taught now, “the receiver has an enormous psychological advantage: He thinks his job is to catch the ball. The defender thinks his job is to stop the receiver; catching the ball is way low in his priorities.”

PHOTO : The Raiders double-team a Denver Bronco receiver.

COPYRIGHT 1988 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group