Yes, that is right, maybe grindiness is not so bad after all. Maybe effort does count for something. The New Yorker’s Malcolm Gladwell (Author of Outliers, among other books) recently wrote an article entitled How David Beats Goliath: When underdogs break the rules. In the article, Gladwell analyzes how upsets happen. About 30 percent of the time in all sports matches, the underdog beats the favorite. If the team is really the favorite, then how does one account for the relatively high number of upsets, especially at lower levels of competition. At the pro level of any sport, more parity exists because games pit top-tier athletes against each other. At the amateur level, like say college basketball or college football, elite programs tend to accumulate much more talent than other programs. On paper, top-tier college sports programs should beat mid-major or lesser programs almost all the time. Yet, as NCAA men’s basketball tournament shows, this is certainly not always the case.
So how does a David go about beating a Goliath? In the article, Gladwell shows how underdogs can beat the favorites by utilizing unconventional tactics in combination with increased effort. The prime example he uses is a teenage girl’s basketball team from Silicon Valley, California. The team is comprised mostly of white girls and an Indian girl, the coach’s daughter, a group with little basketball knowledge and skills. The team has little innate athletic talent and is composed of a group not traditionally known for their basketball skills. Yet, they were able to be successful. They accomplished this by utilizing unusual tactics that caught their opponents off guard, namely by constantly using a full court press. Their use of unconventional tactics bewildered opponents and allowed them to win without having superior basketball skills. Gladwell uses numerous examples, including interviewing Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino, to back up his unusual tactics argument.
Now here is where grindiness comes in. If a team is to properly utilize an uncommon tactic, it needs to exert the proper amount of energy and effort. For example, using the team Gladwell chronicles, in order to properly execute a full-court press for an entire game and during every game, the team has to be willing and able to be constantly running and moving. By retreating after every shot made, a team can recover. Executing a full-court press means the team cannot recover, but that also means the players have to be willing to put in the requisite effort needed to constantly execute the strategy without a recovery period. According to Gladwell, if an underdog is to succeed, it needs an uncommon strategy combined with large amounts of effort and energy.
Really, if you have the time, read the article in full because my summary can only do it so much justice. The main point about uncommon tactics combined with effort has many clear sports connections, but only with true team sports. For example, think about the 2008 Miami Dolphins. They used an unusual tactic, the Wildcat formation and other high school sets, to get them into the playoffs. However, such unusual tactics usually involve more running. More players have to be sprinting during a triple reverse than say a simple run up the middle. As far as I can tell, I do not know how to incorporate unusual tactics into individual sports. Is Michael Phelps’ bong an unusual swimming tactic? Does Roger Federer put a different spin on the ball? Even for a sport like baseball, teams would have a difficult time instituting an unusual tactic. Adding an extra outfielder or infielder? I am not sure.
The basic point is that unusual tactics work, but they usually require more effort than conventional tactics do. See, grindiness is not so bad after all.