Plenty of practice and empty heads- Part 8: 8…2%ers



Athletes perform many acts during competition that we, as spectators, wonder and marvel at.  The greats can even make their skillful performances look so effortless and easy, that we novices often feel justified (and compelled) to criticize and damn them for their mistakes.  How could they make such a silly error?


Pretty easily I’m guessing – indeed, errors are probably far easier to achieve than the sublime acts of skill that we so eagerly anticipate and admire.


Related to this however are the smaller, less identifiable acts that occur in a game. These acts are often referred to as the 1%ers (at this point the author wishes to apologise for the blundered attempt to notate this notion – even my psych referencing textbook is mute as to whether it should be %er, %’er, or percenter).


These small acts are not trivial to the competitive environment – indeed many coaches rate them as critical components of success – but they are less noticeable than a flashy slam-dunk, speccy, or goal.  The idea is that the 1%ers (my settled notation) are the more numerous, smaller cogs that allow the bigger cogs of exalted skill to occur.  In short, the small acts don’t often make the highlights package but highlight packages cannot exist without them.


I believe that the ability to identify and appreciate the 1%ers are a function of expertise and experience.  Spectators who have played the sport are far more likely to observe and admire a 1%er. This is why coaches enthusiastically glorify and implore for, those miniscule acts of assistance. Symbolically, the 1%er represents selflessness and sacrifice for the greater good.  It doesn’t draw widespread glory but it does increase the spread of glory.


It is said to write about what you know, so I’ll use a basketball example of a 1%er. Boxing out.


Boxing out is about the least sexy act in basketball.  It is when you (legally) physically impede your opponent from offensively rebounding the ball after a shot taken by the opposition team.  It is commonly practiced by using your back or an arm bar to block an opponent from moving into any space that provides maximal rebounding advantage (e.g., close to the hoop).


In this authors’ experience, boxing out usually means you probably won’t get the rebound but it also makes it less likely your opponent will too (which you often belatedly pay for during future contract negotiations because of your modest statistical accumulation rebounds).  Few things aggravate basketball coaches more than surrendering offensive rebounds because they effectively double the chances for your opponent to score.  Anecdotally, offensive rebounds that occur late in a close game win matches.


And this point leads to my central thesis.  In my estimation, 1%ers are really worth 2%, and that’s why experts and coaches covet them.  In the aforementioned example, to surrender an offensive rebound can have a deflating effect upon the defensive team.  The coach gets annoyed and fingers are often pointed at the teammate who didn’t block out. If one were so inclined, the dispiriting effect of giving up an O boardmay even be quantified at about negative 1%.


Conversely, for the team that collects an offensive rebound, they have not only gained a second opportunity to score and controlled a larger portion of the game (time management), but also, emblematically, they have displayed superior work-rate and effort. Coming up with an offensive rebound has an energizing effect that may also be measured at 1%.


Therefore, if my math is correct, that’s a 2% swing – from one simple, effort based act.


Hopefully the reader will appreciate this perspective enough to apply it to their favoured and most experienced sport.  Can, for example, a shepherd in AFL be likened in the same way?


Symbolically, a 1% act represents not just effort and commitment to the cause but it directly broadcasts that to the audience and the competitors.  The 1%ers cannot be faked and owe nothing to luck – they are representations and manifestations of action which energises the actors and makes for a despondent respondent.


Read parts 1 to 7 here


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About David Stiff

retrenched athlete, retired catholic, amateur philosopher and cynical optimist :)


  1. I agree shepherding in Aussie Rules is worth more than is given credit. The shepherd allows the player in possession to kick under less pressure and the shepherder should also be providing moral support and encouragement with an indication as to how much time the possessor has.

  2. Really enjoying your series of pieces, David. Thanks.

    I am glad you mentioned the “dispiriting” effect that a moment of laziness or inattention has on the rest of the team (in your example an offensive rebound). The effect of this on the team is very real, but unquantifiable.

  3. G’day D Stiff – excellent to meet you tonight.
    I loved this series back in 2018 and I aim to read the articles again.
    Many thanks for sharing your insights here with us.

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