By Marcus Chhan in Jakarta
Arriving to your destination by police escort can make anyone big headed. So you can forgive this reporter for feeling a little apprehensive as our convoy of buses - one filled with the 20 Regional Finalists for Nike ‘The Chance', the other filled with media - made its way to Jakarta's GMSB Kuningan early on Monday morning flanked by police motorcycles.
The 20 boys had already been given the VIP treatment as I mentioned in my piece on Sunday, and my initial worry was that the bulk of the players might have started thinking that ‘they had cracked' the big-time. After all, there is still plenty at stake here. Only four from the 20 participants in the Regional Finals will advance to the Global Finals in Barcelona. Now's certainly not the time to be taking your foot off the pedal.
In the end though, I needn't have worried. Waiting for us at GMSB Kuningan was a certain individual by the name of Jason R. Mathews. A certified and degreed Sports Medicine and Sports Performance Enhancement professional, Mathews has had spells as Lead Athletic Trainer for several U.S. Men's teams among other jobs. The former U.S. serviceman is also the Nike SPARQ Performance Expert which the sports apparel giant flew down to Jakarta to help take the Regional Finalists through their final training sessions and drills before Tuesday's finale. Did I mention he was honourably discharged from the U.S. Army?
The Regional Finalists are made up of the five Country Winners from Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand; meaning that all 20 boys are already familiar with Nike's fitness test called ‘SPARQ' which stands for Speed Power Agility Reaction Quickness. However, it soon became apparent after what seemed like an eternity of stretching, things would be a little different with Mathews in charge.
Just how different would the day get? Well, previously I had mentioned at the conclusion of the Thailand Country Finals that Nike would be bringing in something called the Nike SPARQ Vapor Strobe Eyewear. It's a tool they developed for sensory training and is basically eyewear which limits the time an athlete has to respond to training stimuli - by blocking or disrupting vision using a strobe or flicker effect that can be varied in speed. Nike believes an athlete can develop quicker reaction times and motor skills by training the brain to anticipate what‘s coming when the eyes are blocked.
"Quite simply what it does is it takes away information from the player's brain. That blinking of the strobe goes from a fast to a slower pace. The slower it gets the more difficult it gets for the player to actually see and react to that," Mathews told ESPNSTAR.com.
"Their eyes are telling them that they should see the ball somewhere and then all of a sudden they lose that information, and then the ball re-appears and they have to quickly react to that."
It's hard to explain what exactly it feels like to wear the Vapor Strobe Eyewear without experiencing it for yourself. Therefore I am happy to report that Nike gave me access to the glasses while Mathews upped the ante with some light training work.
We all know that the brain is like a muscle, you can train it to reach an optimum level of performance in many aspects. Nike will have you believe though that its Vapor Strobe Eyewear can act as a form of resistance training for the brain. What I can tell you from my own experience - all 30 minutes or so with the eyewear - is that you can definitely feel a difference when you perform a task without the eye-wear, then with the eye-wear, and then without the eye-wear in quick succession. The ball suddenly seems a lot larger and your touches - somehow - become a bit better albeit briefly for me given the short time I spent with the product.
"It's definitely resistance training for that sensory process, the reaction of the brain and what information you are getting and how you respond to that," Mathews said.
"Vision is more than just seeing. The more you can train that brain, the more you can build a better athlete."
Of course, having keen senses that would rival even Spider-Man is just one part of what makes a complete athlete. There's a mental component to being successful in sport as well. The theme that Nike appears to be drilling into the 20 Regional Finalists is that this is the most important 72 hours (the Finals began on Sunday and end on Tuesday) of your life with only four spots up for grabs in the Global Finals. I wouldn't disagree with that mantra, so it was little frustrating for me at times watching from the sidelines when things started to get a bit too quiet and too nice out there on the pitch. Not enough of the contestants in my opinion were getting angry at themselves when they messed up a challenge or drill, or mad at a team-mate for misplacing a pass. I wasn't alone in this.
"Ultimately, the greatest athletes from the U.S. are extremely competitive. If you look at Michael Jordan from basketball; he had a competitive side to him that it didn't matter what you were doing [he would want to beat you]," Mathews said.
"These guys [20 Regional Finalists] are getting to know each other and they are having a bit of fun but at the same time they need to know that it [‘The Chance']is a competition and that is what we tried to tell them last night [at the opening dinner].
"The SPARQ rating is a competition. You are competing against the player next to you but also against the level that is out there. From my side of it, I think they need to see every piece of this as a competition.
He added: "Having the greatest player in your team [in Michael Jordan], obviously you are going to have success. But it is probably the biggest compliment you can pay to an athlete by saying that he makes the other athletes around him better.
"So by having that competitive desire, he made everyone on the team better and ultimately that is what we want to see with these players [in Jakarta]. Can they push each other and raise all their levels?"
The answer will be found out on Tuesday.
‘The Chance' is Nike Football's global competition seeking out the next wave of hungry young footballers.
Nike scouts are on the hunt in more than 50 countries to find 100 potential champions to battle it out at the Global Final in Barcelona.
You can read more stories by ESPNSTAR.com on ‘The Chance' by clicking on the links below