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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell loves me

Malcolm Gladwell's new article in the New Yorker is called "How David Beats Goliath: When underdogs break the rules." It's worth reading, but the main narrative is about a twelve-year old girls team that uses the full-court press to beat opponents. Ethical issues aside, a running theme here is the use of risky strategies that underdogs can use to beat teams that overmatch them. Sound familiar? I made the same argument recently, though in slightly more (though only slightly) technical terms: See Conservative and risky football strategies (and kurtosis).


Jon said...

Some random thoughts:

A friend tipped me off to that article. Wish there was a site called Smart Hoops, but Dean Oliver covers some of this ground in Basketball on Paper.

As a football player, Craig was legendary for the off-season hill workouts he put himself through. Most of his N.F.L. teammates are now hobbling around golf courses. He has run seven marathons.This is intriguing, but I thought that it was Jerry Rice with the hill course.

It has been a while since I read up on 18th Century American History, but Washington had a little bit of guerrilla in him. Witness Trenton.

New site design, eh?

Year2 said...

I would argue that Gladwell is not advocating that an underdog should take the risky approach over the conservative approach. It's more about not letting the Goliath get into its comfort zone.

That might mean cranking up the tempo and getting aggressive against a three yards and a cloud of dust team, but it also might mean slowing down the tempo against a team that likes a fast pace.

In the terms of the main example of the article, a pressing basketball defense won't generally work against a team that loves to press. They've practiced it so much, they know how to defeat it. However, no one presses in girls' youth league basketball, so it's effective there.

It's the rationale why the service academies run the option and why the spread used to be an equalizer for under-talented teams. It doesn't necessarily mean underdogs have to take risks, it just means they shouldn't try to play the favorite's game.

Chris said...

Year2, you're probably right that I overstated on the Gladwell piece. And I agree with you that it's as much about being "different" as anything else. Just thought I'd point it out.

Anonymous said...

That coach exemplifies much of what is wrong with youth sports today. Rather than try to teach his team the skills of the sport, he just had them run so they would be fitter than everybody else. Then, he used a strategy that only works against players who aren't very good at basketball so they could win. His players learned very little about how to play basketball. What will they do when they get older, and the other players skills improve to the point they can break the press? They will get killed, because they never learned the fundamentals of how to actually play the game. Pressing is very effective against unskilled players, but decreases in effectiveness as player skill improves. This can be seen in how many high schools have success pressing, a few colleges do, and in the NBA pressing is only used as a change of pace or in end-of-game situations and rarely works then.

Brian Manning said...

Wow - great article! Definitely goes along with what you wrote about football strategies and thinking outside the box.

Anonymous: Gladwell addresses those issues farther on in the piece. "But [the insurgents'] other advantage is that they will do what is 'socially horrifying.'" Albeit that's more in a reference to the war aspect of the article, but it goes along with your comment about improving skills for later. There is also a great deal about Rick Pitino and how he has used pressing very successfully as a strategy throughout his career as a college coach.

Ted Seay said...

The full-court press in basketball is a lot like the 46 Bear defense in football -- you examine your opponent thoroughly for his/her ability to perform under intense pressure.

Is it sound under all circumstances? probably not, unless you have an unbelievable talent differential.

Is it a useful tool in some circumstances? Betcher ass it is...but I prefer a 3/4 court trap, to offer the illusion of a safe path up the court for the team with the ball.