PitcherI wonder why tennis serves are not more similar to baseball pitchers'. I have tried to revamp my serve and am picking the left leg up high and following through with the right, the way all the right hand pitchers do, and it increased my speed and accuracy. Is there a flaw in this approach or analysis? I remember from squash the fastest serves I ever saw came from baseball pitchers.

Bill Humbert replies:

I remember Pat Cash reflecting that he felt he would have had a better serve landing on his left foot. Other great servers like Becker and Laver landed on the dominant (right) foot also. I switched from this style to the modern style while still in juniors — I found it easier to control, and easier to reposition myself at the baseline. But it would seem to suit a serve-volleyer to land on the dominant. Speaking of tennis, here is a little essay I wrote: Looking in The Mirror.

Players often go through long periods with their confidence low (I am in one now, both in my tennis and my investing). I believe that I am a good tennis player, capable of a certain standard of play, while my body is able ( which at the moment is not! ). I believe that with planning, practice, hard work I can get myself out of this rut, even though this is one of my worst. However that belief is not there when it comes to my trading and investing. Last year I blew up, losing too large a chunk of what I'd accumulated ( and spent ) over the years, and I've not traded since. I've gone back to work after having semi-retired, literally starting over. Not only that, I look in the mirror and ask whether those ten years of success and wealth accumulation were due to in large part luck - I'm starting to believe they were, and with that loss of belief there is no way I can apply the same principles I'm applying to the tennis court to get my mojo back. If you see a failure in the mirror, you will fail time after time. Here are some of the simple but expensive lessons I've learnt since watching Federer beat Nadal last year at Wimbledon.

1. Know your strengths and nurture them. We are all built with a particular strength, it's there to be nurtured. The right mentor might enlighten us, or sometimes even friendly opponents. Most improvement in a player's game comes from recognizing this strength and finding the opportunity to apply it over and over. Hide and protect your weaknesses, apply your strengths. You'll win more than you lose. Do you know yours?

2. Imitation leads to elimination. Much time is wasted by players trying to be what they are not, and giving away what they are best at in the process. Create your own style - that way you'll know its not been seen before.

3. Accept your shortcomings. Every player has holes in their game. A big step is made in accepting this. A player can then make better judgments on which balls to attack. This nurtures a more patient approach as the player realises he cannot hit every ball for a winner, cannot win every point.

4. Keep it simple. You do not have to be able to do know everything or do everything well to be successful. Success and winning is as much about getting the basic stuff right over and over again.

5. Know your next move. Rule 1 in grasscourt tennis: volley to the open court. With this rule in mind, you are applying an edge over and over without having to think about it. Your opponent may start anticipating, but he will be at a disadvantage more often than not. Having a set of moves from basic court positions simplifies your game. The task is then to execute. A good plan is very hard to beat even when they know what your are doing.

6. Don't play if you are injured. There nothing to gain. Injury means less practice, hesitancy during play, losses, and a spiral of falling confidence. Much like a depleted trading account which isn't letting you play as you would.

7. Do what it takes to restore your confidence. Any trick will do. Sports and trading are confidence games, and you are a useless player without it.

8. Know when it's time to hang up the racquets.

Steve Leslie writes:

I don’t follow tennis much any more but I have been researching some of the greatest players. As I suspected, on the men’s side Federer and Sampras are both 6′1″ according to Wikipedia. Becker is 6′4″. The women Lindsey Davenport and Venus Williams both go over 6′ and Sharapova is 6′2″. So compound their height and the high tech racquets that can withstand immense tightening of the strings and this in all likelihood are concomitant reasons why the serves are so fast today.

Basic physics dictates that to get greater velocity on the ball, the racquet head speed must be high. How you get there is up to you. Roscoe Tanner had a very compact swing as I recall. He was a striker. Becker would get there through a very long arc on his serve. He was more of a sweeper.

I do think that there is a corollary to the elbow problems that pitchers face and that is tennis elbow. Most likely due to the snap that the tennis player tries to get through the ball to obtain a little more velocity and the stress they put on the joint itself.

I know in golf that high clubhead speed is attained through shaft length, flexibility of shaft and acceleration through the strike zone. There is also a trampoline effect that is realized through the composite material used on the face and the design of the actual clubhead itself. In his day, Greg Norman was probably the greatest driver of the ball, which is a combination of accuracy and distance. He is considered a sweeper. Hank Kuehne and Daly are more strikers.

I still will never understand how or why Bryant played with a broken leg. Hacksaw Reynolds also allegedly played with a broken leg. A word of caution here. Bryant also had half his team quit at Texas A&M during his boot camp and according to the show on ESPN one almost died from heat exhaustion. Kerry Wood may have been permanently ruined because of abuse and pitching hurt and before he was sufficiently healed. And my all time hero, Dave Dravecky pitched after receiving treatment for bone cancer and broke his arm forcing amputation of his arm. These are two stark examples. I could also mention Mike Ditka, Joe Namath, Dick Butkus Dan Marino who walk like 80 year old men. There is a big difference in playing with pain and playing when really physically damaged.



PebbleI'd love to know whether Joe Lewis played golf with Jimmy Cayne prior to taking his billion dollar stake in BSC. I think that with a shared interest like this the defences go down. Is it right to trust people that we instinctively like? Or is this the time for caution, certainly with regard to business matters?

Bill Humbert replies:

GM Davies asks a good question. I wonder if this has to do with the departure of happy times. The rising tide lifted all boats, but now those who cannot do are left with no support except their ability to deceive. I have encountered more smiling, pleasant backstabbers, liars, and hoodoos in the last three years than in all the rest of my life added together. I have successfully used the cockroach theorem for years with individuals, but find it highly predictive with regard to organizations as well, nowadays. Noticing one little oddity almost ensures worse, and soon. Get the facts. Follow the money and power flows to see what they are distorting in order to ensure gain for themselves or avoid threats to their pleasant and undeserved situation. Been pulling out books like "The Prince" and "The 48 Laws of Power." They read like a checklist some days.

Kim Zussman extends:

RoachSpeaking of cockroach effects:

1. Are there more big problems to come at financials?
1a. Is illiquidity of the banking system the only fear?
2. Are we in/headed into recession, and if this is all, wasn't it quick and painless?
3. How long/far will real estate decline?
4. Will central bank actions ameliorate or postpone?
5. Isn't a long-term bottom when no one even wants to discuss the stock market?
5a. And a negative wealth effect because investable capital is needed for consumption?
6. Is there a put in SP500 at -20% from October's high (cash 1250)?
7. Can bear rallies be distinguished from a major turning point?
7a. Can bear rallies be timed and bought without an irregularly declining P&L?
8. Are some markets not tradeable and how do you recognize them ex-ante?



 I have been researching on the web how to teach children to dream. What is left out is how to develop a passion for life when dreams fail to develop. I suspect their father's example is the best teacher.

John Floyd writes: 

I am looking for recommendations for children’s books. I would like to include the right mix of education, capitalism, logic, reason, imagination, and individuality among other things. A few books and stories that I have found, and the kids enjoy: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose, An Airplane is Born, and The Little Prince.  

Scott Brooks adds: 

As much as we push education in our home, we've had a dickens of time getting our children to read outside of school. Finally last year, my oldest daughter got into reading the Goose Bumps series. She loves them and needs no prodding to read up on them.

My youngest son somehow got into reading the Star Wars books. He doesn't read them religiously, but will read outside of class if given a little reminder. Interestingly, I bought him a book on bullets at the Quality Deer Management Association national convention in Chattanooga last week and he's been perusing it almost everyday. He's 8 years old and it's way above his level, but he seems fascinated by it. He had his home school teacher read it with him and explain the more difficult parts to him.

For my 12-year-old, we've had to use a different tactic. He doesn't read unless we push him to do it. However, he's really into the markets and learning about investing. So he reads stuff on the net about companies he's thinking of buying and watches and reads investing information.

I guess the key is to immerse your kids in reading and let them find what they like. When I was kid, I'd read one or two Hardy Boys book's a week. I tried to get my kids into them, but to no avail. Keep searching to help your kids find something that they like. There have been a lot of good books recommended here (and I'm saving this thread for future reference for my kids and their home school).

Many of these books are important and are one's that I'll have the kids read as part of their school work assignments (whether they want to or not). But the biggest thing that I've searched for is, how do I instill in them a love for reading a thirst for knowledge? I can't do that by forcing books on them. Sure, I can help them to learn important lessons by requiring that they read certain books. But what I really want to see is them sitting down curled up with a book reading it because they want to. I believe that should be goal! 

From Bill Humbert: 

One of my children was a reading-avoider. My goal was to get the kid reading and I happened to see the movie League of Their Own in which the Madonna character teaches the non-literate character to read by using trashy novels. I believe the quote was something like, Who cares? She’s reading isn’t she? It’s a scene we always laugh at.

Well, I didn’t use trashy novels, but I did use comic books. We started with the superhero genre and then I gradually slipped in the newer version of the old Classic Comics. For certain works I also acquired Books on Tape, which is more useful than listening to the radio in the car and it gave the child a general understanding of the work.

Since the brain stores different types of input in different locations, this child had an advantage over the children who only had read say Homer’s Odyssey. The child had the pictures from the Classic Comics, the audio from Books on Tape and the printed word itself. After a while the child started to excel in those classes. And only then did the overall desire to read take over. I think it was like a pump that needed to be primed.

Get the child reading. "What" does not matter. If the child finds that useful and desired knowledge comes from reading, eventually that child will take to the books. But you have to prime the pump by starting with something that they want to read, which is not always what we want them to read. 

Larry Williams adds:

When I wanted my kids to read a book I was reading I told them they probably should not read it — that it was too adult for them. A cheap trick, I know, but they pick up those books like a brown trout seeing a grasshopper in August.

Nat Stewart writes:

My parents did much to foster my love of reading. In early grade school I would go with my mother to the local library, where I was allowed to pick any books I wanted for that week. I quickly fell in love with the selection of children's books that focused on biographies of America's great heroes. My particular favorites where books on:

1. Thomas Jefferson
2. Thomas Edison
3. George Washington
4. Paul Revere
5. John Paul Jones
6. George Washington
7. Davey Crockett
8. Henry Ford
9. Daniel Boone
10. the Wright brothers

I loved these books! The children's books focus on a narrative of struggle, adventure, and heroism, ingenuity, and are often historically accurate enough to prove very educational. I remember reading them late into the night, hoping no one notice that I had my light on long past the official bed time.

My parents also spent a good deal of time reading to me. My favorites included books about King Author and Nights of the Round Table, "Little House on the Prairie" books, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Let a kid explore the library and pick favorites. Provide enough options so that reading can become an adventure rather than a chore. Spend some time reading to them over summer vacation. 

From  Bill Rafter:

 We all remember our trips to the library. However that cannot be replicated today. The libraries simply cannot compete with television and the Internet either with content or "wow" factor. The answer to the problem will be in using the new technology not avoiding it. Television, even the good stuff like National Geographic or Ken Burn's "Civil War", is still second-rate because it's passive. The Internet is active, and thus has more potential as a learning tool.

Games can be very helpful. One that had particularly helped me (both myself and subsequently my children) was Scrabble. After a street game of "boxball" we would dig out the Scrabble board while we cooled down. Those games got very competitive to the extent that several of us kids started doing research on words by randomly reading the dictionary. Scrabble also required you use arithmetic to keep score.

My favorite Scrabble word was "ennui," as it cleaned out your collection of accumulated poor-value tiles. It also led to challenges, which led to another turn and more points. While researching through the dictionary I stumbled upon the word "eunuch", which also had good Scrabble possibilities. Being in 6th grade, I didn't care what it meant, but kept a mental file for future use.

Well somehow I got into a name-calling event in the schoolyard with a girl and called her a eunuch. She had no idea what it meant, but the teacher Sister Mary Hatchetface was in earshot and she most certainly knew. The next thing that happened was that I was in the principal's office (Sister Jane Battleaxe). My father was summoned. He was a Philadelphia policeman, and he happened to be in uniform.

So there I was in the Holy of Holies with the two nuns in their penguin uniforms and Dad in his, trying to learn what trashy literature I was reading. The revelation that it was the dictionary left them with no solution.

Ahhh, the ability to stick it to authority…priceless. 


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