Too Much Information

Nightmare. That single word that sums up the Origin debut of Justin Hodges. His selection for game two, by virtue of Clinton Schifcofske?s wooden performance in the opening game of the 2002 series, was seen another shrewd investment in the Maroons myth. Unfortunately for Queensland selectors, the leap of faith shown by selecting Hodges was not repaid in kind. Two risky and inexact in-goal passes from the debutant resulted in NSW tries.

In sporting vernacular, Hodges choked -- a condition that is neither new nor uncommon and that has befallen others before him and undoubtedly more in the future. Starry-eyed cynics of the game are often quick to vilify a player for, to use another sporting idiom, a brain explosion, yet fail to realise these occurrences are likely to become more common and are already evident in our daily lives.

It?s called information overload. To psychologists, it?s Information Fatigue Syndrome. Outlined in Toffler?s seminal Future Shock, ?cognitive overstimulation interferes with our ability to think?. As Bridget Murray says in the American Psychological Association Monitor, ?The fast flow of facts motivates people to a point, but once it pushes past a critical threshold, their brains rebel.? In Hodges? case, his perception and reasoning went beyond breaking point. Doubtless advice and oratory would have been passed onto Hodges before kick-off. Add to that the requirements of coaching staff, personal expectations, and the frenzied cries of the 47, 989 that packed into ANZ Stadium that night and it is easy to see why Queensland?s winger came to grief.

Players, like Hodges, will find it increasingly difficult to cope with information overload. This is a far cry from rugby league 20 years ago where the crude approach to preparation meant that, come game day, premiership matches were played with a kind of romanticism. As more advanced computer processing technology is developed and computer-based systems become less expensive, NRL clubs will find it tempting to invest in refined statistical software and calculators. As it stands, all employ in-house statisticians and, as well as this, some even purchase data from relevant data collection companies. Therefore, head coaches are able to form endless combinations and permutations of data to any extreme. When the Brian Smith-coached Parramatta swept all before them in the 2001 NRL premiership, much was spoken about the Eels technical programme and its apparent strength in relation to other NRL clubs. Of no surprise was the intensity required of players under Smith. In one training component, each player was given a different series of numbers to commit to memory. When fatigued or pressured, they were then compelled to recall the series ? or its reverse ? on cue. If this exercise is in any way symptomatic of the demands placed on Eels players, it is not unreasonable to offer the information overload theory as an explanation for their downward spiral and the mass exodus of talented players from the Club.

In the cult film Pi, tormented genius Max Cohen's pursuit of a ruling number pattern sees him spiral into lunacy. Like Cohen, NRL coaches ought to be wary of a dependency on information. There are elements of sport that cannot be predicted regardless of what information is collected. That is what makes sport so appealing. Hollywood actor Michael Douglas once said doesn?t watch film, but prefers sport because he can never predict what is about to unfold.

Referees, the rugby league fan?s anathema, appear to succumb to information overload regularly. Odd, often flawed, interpretations of what is an essentially simple game could be taken as evidence. Armed with whistle and ho-hum disposition, they are confronted with ruling on the legitimacy of tide-turning tries, dab hand decoy runs, and teeth-trashing tackles. If we are to consider the level of stimulation they are exposed to, the governance of them may be doing more harm than good.

They have to rely not on their own interpretation of a game, but the instructions from officialdom, the manipulations of talkative players, and beer-fuelled invective being hurled from the outer, reflecting off the stadium architecture, and taking the form of a primitive lust to see the referee pulled apart by horses and chain.

?Information overload is a reflection of that almost genetic historic desire to do more,? says Irish author Gerry McGovern. If we are to believe that, we should also believe that players, coaches, and officials should control the information before the information controls them.

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