Do some players have ESP?
The stall count is getting high and the defense is tight. You’re starting to get nervous when your eyes lock with your old college roommate. You both know what to do and you let the disc fly with no hesitation. It’s an unorthodox decision but the pass is complete as if you drew it up that way. How many times has something like this happened to you? Do you and your teammates share some sort of extrasensory perception?
We’ve all seen that certain teammates develop special chemistry. And off the field camaraderie often translates into on the field success. Both of these phenomena have their basis in how we make decisions when confronted with a complex problem. Looking downfield with the disc in hand, there are many variables to think about. How close is the defender to the receiver? How fast are they moving? What is the angle of the mark? What is the angle of the cut? How is the wind going to affect the disc? If we had to consciously sort through all of these factors, we would never be able to get a throw off in time. Even given enough time to think, the conscious, analytical part of the brain can only keep track of a very limited number of variables at one time.
When the brain is faced with complex multivariable problems, the analytical part of the brain is easily overwhelmed. Decisions about where to throw a disc on a crowded field are better handled by an older part of the brain that makes decisions based on pattern recognition. This part of the brain learns through trial and error rather than by analysis. In making a decision, all of the player’s previous experiences get distilled into a conclusion about the current situation. The conclusions surface in the mind as a feeling. When you look at a receiver you get a good feeling or a bad feeling. A bad feeling might be caused by previous experiences where the disc was thrown and D’ed by a defender too close. A good feeling is caused by the previous cutting patterns you may have seen from this person that turned out successfully. They may, in part, also be made of good feelings you’ve experienced with a particular player off the field. So you might look back on your throwing decision and not be able to explain why you thought it was a good idea. Decisions can defy analysis because they were never made from analysis to begin with. (Lehrer, 2009, ch.1)
This is what the elusive “flow” is made of. Flow is more likely between players who like each other. Flow is facilitated by experience. Both factors contribute to solidifying the positive feelings that are experienced when cutters and throwers execute successful decisions.
Lehrer, J. (2009). How We Decide. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.