Occlusion Goggles

I found this interesting bit of video from Kessel’s presentation:

I remember Simon telling me something about this a while back, but for some reason I’ve been  incorrectly attributing it to service reception when re-telling this story a lot. Anyway, the point is it’s all about reading early cues.

“Occlusion Goggles” are clear glasses that turn opaque when a remote electronic switch is flipped. The Wired Magazine article that Kessel mentions in the clip about how the AIS used them in the volleyball programme can be found here.

An Excerpt:

On the last evening of my AIS visit, I watch a volleyball team practicing attacks: setting the ball, then hammering a spike down on opposing blockers. The reverberating balls in the nearly empty gym create a constant, explosive cacophony. David Ferguson, one of the team’s more powerful hitters, is an enormous 25-year-old in bright blue shorts with a frighteningly large rump. When he spikes the ball, it sounds like a cannon going off.

Last fall, the volleyball team worked on spike defense using the occlusion goggles for six weeks, cutting out the view just as the ball was hit. Knowing that you are going to lose sight of a large ball traveling 80†miles an hour in your general direction has a remarkably concentrating effect, says 19-year-old Will Thwaite, a lanky 6’10” blocker. Like the rest of the team, Thwaite practiced with the goggles two or three times a week. “I think it helped,” he says. “When I played before, I mostly just reacted. But when you get to this high level, the ball travels so fast. You really have to anticipate.” As I watch, one of Thwaite’s teammates blocks a close- quarters Ferguson spike at the net so solidly that the ball boomerangs back at an astonishing speed.

Thwaite’s coach, meanwhile, has added another twist. Since the players are getting better at reading serves, he has also quietly begun teaching servers how to hide their intentions.

Inexperienced volleyball hitters tend to telegraph their hits, says Vint, who has puzzled over these issues with Farrow: “If they’re doing a quick set in the middle, they may stiffen their arms. If it’s a back-set, they’ll arch their back before the ball arrives.”

The result has been a kind of athletic arms race, the ability to read shots driving a corresponding need for better fakes. When I point this out to Vint, he seems pleased. Like any advantage, perceptual training will likely upset the existing balance. But eventually things will even out. “In the long run,” he says confidently, “I think the level of play will go up.”

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