Saturday, December 17, 2011

Winning Games Without Actually Cheating

A few things have jumped out at me over recent weeks across the spectrum of athletics: Disruption in the marketplace and understanding of running gear, unorthodox tactics to counter a fast-paced hockey strategy, and the risk-averse NFL being forced to change antiquated rules to adapt to modern technology.

Running and Its Discontents

Born to Run was written a few years back by Christopher McDougall, extolling the virtues of barefoot-like running and challenging the fundamental tenants of everything we runners thought we knew about training. The author takes a look at an unusual tribe in Mexico and how they upended the world of Ultra Marathoning.

In November, McDougall published an article in the New York Times Magazine that finally pushed me over the edge towards adopting this style of running. The first few weeks were a challenging transition, but now I can't get enough of hitting the pavement with technology birthed mere thousands of years ago.

That said, the key takeaway is how mass adoption of "natural running" could fundamentally alter the running shoe industry. This resurgent movement utterly discredits the "requirement" to buy new shoes every 500 miles or 3 months. "Improvements" in shoe technology over the past 40 years have shown no evidence of preventing injury. Once you have a pair of these minimalist shoes, you may never need to buy another running shoe again.

There is a lesson here in the power of marketing (see "Change your oil every 3 months or 3,000 miles" for further evidence of this), but we should always be willing to challenge conventional wisdom in the face of compelling evidence.

The Worst Hockey Game Ever

On Dec 14th, the WSJ published a retrospective on a National Hockey League game played a month prior. A fan in attendance would likely agree that it was indeed, The Worst Hockey Game Ever.

However, from the standpoint of devising a strategy maximizing the chance of victory, it was rather innovative. Coach Laviolette of the Flyers adopted a static tactic against a defense that was fluid and reactive, neutralizing their advantage. It was very reminiscent of the Nov 24, 1979 game between Duke and UNC, where Duke used the Four Corners Offense to great effect against a high-powered UNC team.

In a world where faster decision making is often extolled, stalling is sometimes a great counter.

A Monolith Faces the iPad

The NFL makes tens of billions of dollars each year from TV contracts, and the networks are always trying to outdo each other with snazzy advancements on the screen (first down lines, line of scrimmage lines, overhead cameras, etc). But the League refuses to allow cell-phones (much less smartphones...), laptops or tablets on the sideline or coach's booth during games. Thus, we see paper flip charts, Xerox-printed photos and relics of the twentieth century in coaches and players hands.

This might be about to change. Large organizations tend to be the most conservative and resistant to adaptation, and usually have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards innovative advancements. Why the League hasn't yet adopted technologies embraced wholeheartedly by their fan base is beyond me. Then again, this is the same organization that refuses to release the most tactically significant footage of its contests.

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