29 May 2009

"How David Beats Goliath"

I LOVED this article. Let me just start by stating that. It is by Malcolm Gladwell, author of blink Outliers, and Tipping Point. It ran in the New Yorker and can be read on his website. A big thanks to my uncle Steve for passing this one on because it is really a great read.
There are so many great aspects to this...
  • I loved his rule that he would not raise his voice with his players. More youth coaches need to learn that yelling is not an effective method of instruction for young kids.
  • The parallels drawn between basketball, Lawrence of Arabia, David & Goliath, insurgent warfare and the American Revolution were insightful and interesting.
  • The examples used when discussing batch processing of airline luggage handling and the Fed's handling of the economy but I felt that the connection needed to be a little more fleshed-out to maximize that part's relevancy.
  • ""We're not the best basketball team out there. But they understood their roles." A twelve-year-old girl would go to war for Rometra." Having played HS basketball in a program that was built on team offense and team defense, I appreciate and respect a team where everyone knows and is happy with fulfilling their role to make the team better. While I enjoy watching basketball of all types, I'll take a team with role-players that works together and works hard over a team with a couple stars that carry them. And I can also appreciate that if kids are given instructions and motivation from someone they respect and admire, they will run through a wall for them. That hero-worship can be a powerful thing.
  • The piece about Pitino held extra enjoyment for me. I was an avid fan of those mid-90's Kentucky teams. He talks about the rush state, "that moment when the player with the ball is shaken out of his tempo" and it is that state that can lead to thing going downhill very fast because not only does the shaken team see & feel it and they start to lose confidence and makes more mistakes, but the other team sees & feels it and it is like blood in the water for them.
  • The 'seven-second correction', so the players heart-rates will start high. Great thinking.
  • "We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. It's the other way around. Effort can trump ability—legs, in Saxe's formulation, can overpower arms—because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coordination." That is a great statement to ponder on and take into consideration, in life as well as when coaching or playing. I love the idea of someone willing to put in more work the rest of the field and them coming out on top. And that is the press embodied. It reminded me of Lance Armstrong book title, "It's Not About the Bike" and that line in his commercial where he says, "Everybody wants to know what I'm on....What am I on? I'm on my bike, busting my ass, 6 hours a day."
  • "The price that the outsider pays for being so heedless of custom is, of course, the disapproval of the insider" I was glad that he addressed this aspect of it. When a team decides to play in an unorthadox manner or uses some scheme that was previously unknown, the establishment will always look at them with scorn and try to make them feel worse about their achievements by cheapening what they do and how they do it. In soccer in particular there is always talk of which teams 'win ugly' and which 'joga bonita'.


  1. a very interesting article. I read it all. great philosophy. I like sports and life comparisons. I also like Kentucky--thanks to you. Remember all those Kentucky tee shirts you used to have.?


    great points you pulled out of it too -- funny how they coincided with the lines i'd highlighted from the article.

    i completely agree on the argument for the FED working real-time (where was the support for that?)

    - the rush state - what a great insight from Pitino, there's a palpable shift in momentum when a team suddenly forces it's opponent into this... something so strong you can even feel it through the TV -- the last time I saw it was the BoiseState bowl game - they threw crazy play after gimmick and there was no stopping them. This is exactly your "blood in the water" comment, once a team feels that shift their confidence can make the difference.

    the more I think about this, I begin to focus on the addictive draw of competition in general. I have been lucky enough to feel the high of a rush state or mentality of "we've got you now", where regardless of all other considerations you KNOW your team will prevail. The complete and utter honesty of throwing EVERYTHING you have into the fight, knowing that only total commitment and willingness to lose will allow the victor to claim a satisfying victory is completely self-reinforcing. Maybe this is a less 'socially horrifying' alternative to mortal combat?

    Finally, regarding Lance Armstrong's quote on outworking the competition, an interesting corollary from Jacques Pepin's autobio: One of his primal rules to gain respect from new kitchen staff? "bust ass" that's it. no fancy knife tricks, recipes with 100 ingredients, or 2 day cooking routines; just get out there and do more work than anyone else.