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Monday, April 9, 2018

Big Ideas Applied to Basketball: Strategies of War

"The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time." - Winston Churchill

Basketball is not war. Failure isn't final. The 'least' among battlefield warriors deserves great respect because they're putting themselves out there, full risk, skin in the game.  More than ten years of military service shapes my lens, recognizing their sacrifices big and small, writ large upon a divided nation. 

Believe in Mungerian "big ideas" to guide organization, decision-making, and problem solving. Military history shares such big concepts. 

The idea of warfare emanated from Sun Tzu's The Art of War over two and a half millennia ago. Win with the least amount of bloodshed and violence. 

For example, the Battle of Chancellorsville (1863) demonstrated underdogs defeating overwhelming force, as Robert E. Lee outflanked Union general Joseph Hooker. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's 20th Maine bayonet counterattack saved the day at Little Round Top at southern Gettysburg. 

Basketball, like traditional warfare, has options including infantry (power game), cavalry (speed game), and artillery (perimeter game). David defeated Goliath with the perimeter game, deadly accuracy with projectiles flung at over 60 mph. The Persians had not only numbers but a perimeter attack (archers) at Thermopylae. Genghis Khan conquered most of Asia with his blitzkrieg strategies emphasizing speed and cavalry. The 'general who never lost', Alexander Suvorov, trained his infantry meticulously and taught only attack. Never retreat. 

"It is your own bad strategies, not the unfair opponent that are to blame for your failures." - Robert Greene

"If you want to communicate an important idea, you must not preach." We don't want our players to learn on faith but on practice. 

The 33 Strategies of War references approaches for coaches. Be selective. Choose those that work for you. Robert Greene divides them among:

Self-directed Warfare
Organizational Warfare
Defensive Warfare
Offensive Warfare
Unconventional Warfare

How these relate to basketball reinforces their validity. 

Self-directed. "See the world and our situation as it is." Be realistic. We go back to our core principle of "what enduring lesson emerges from this activity?" A corollary to this is, his second principle, "do not fight the last war." What worked yesterday may or may not be today's solution. 

"Value what you have, not what you wish you had." 

Organizational. You cannot win a battle, let alone a war, by yourself. Without followers, there is no leadership. The group must share common goals and understanding of the desired intermediate and end states, which allows for distributed leadership and coordination. As David Cottrell wrote in Monday Morning Leadership, "people don't quit jobs, they quit people." Morale drives action. 

Defensive. Pick your battles. A team that trains more and plays fewer games sharpens skills that will prove invaluable later. The European model of five hours of practice for one game can be reversed domestically to poor effect. 

Offensive. Do what you do well. Control the tempo, how and where you attack. Transition, long-range bombing, or pounding the ball inside...choose your method strategically. 

Asymmetrical warfare. By contemporary standards, American colonists won via atypical tactics, firing behind trees and walls against well-formed British regulars. Some teams will use unconventional strategy (e.g. slow down game, junk defenses, chimeric defenses) looking to confuse opponents. 


Jrue Holiday applies many tricks of the trade - moves his feet, gets his chest into the ballhandler, pulls the chair, and "gets skinny" fighting over and through screens. 

Double bonus: Horns, stagger diagonal away


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