What’s Your Gadget?

For the past couple weeks, my wife Jen has been asking me if I’m going to write about the goggles. She’s asked enough about the goggles, in fact, that it’s become a running joke in our house. It’s gotten to the point that if you simply blurt out the word “goggles” at unexpected times, you get a big laugh.

(Goggles!)

So here’s the story: there’s this eight-year-old kid, Seth Wilson, who lives near us in Ohio. Seth happens to have been named the top-ranked second-grader in the country by a basketball website middleschoolelite.com (why in the world people would rank second graders is a topic for another day). Thing is, Seth is really, really good, and he sometimes practices wearing these homemade — you guessed it — goggles. They’re not normal goggles, because the lower half of the lenses is painted black. When Seth wears them during his drills, he can’t see anything at his feet.

The goggles increase his feel for the ball, his vision, his touch. Essentially, they nudge him to the sweet spot on the edge of his ability and put the focus on perhaps the most important skill a young player has to develop — controlling the ball on auto-pilot while focusing his attention on the game.

Jen is absolutely right to love the goggles, because they’re genius. In a world where people pay big money for lessons and high-tech equipment, a homemade gadget like this is skill-development gold. Which got us thinking about other gadgets.

Such as the Hershey’s Kiss, used by young violinists. This gets placed in on the body of the violin as they play. If you lose proper position, the violin tilts and the kiss falls. Keep form, and you earn a treat.

Or the yogurt lids — a hitting-improvement gadget pioneered by the late legendary baseball coach Marvin “Towny” Townsend of Tidewater Little League in Virginia Beach, VA. The yogurt lids are used in the place of balls; the “pitcher” stands a few feet away and flips the lids at the waiting batter frisbee-style; they have to hit a small, curving, speeding object. Because they’re plastic lids, you can have batting practice indoors, in a tiny space, and make a lot more swings to boot.

These kinds of gadgets — inexpensive, simple, innovative — can have more effect on learning than a raft of fancy theories or classes. I also like them because of the larger message: good practice methods aren’t something that’s handed down from on high — they’re something you invent, figure out with what’s at hand, or borrow from others.

So the question is, what’s your gadget?

PS — big thanks to reader Angel Sanz for pointing this out: http://youtu.be/zhcMH27TqZY

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