Introduction to Sports Strategy

In this week’s edition of Mondays with Matt, I want to start introducing a concept that I will be discussing in the future – Strategy. I want to discuss this concept as strategy is really the guiding force when we talk about recreational goals and athletic ventures. Why? For a few reasons. First off, we have spent some time discussing the importance of understanding and mastering the fundamentals. We have discussed the importance of practicing and understanding your role on a team and being self-aware so that you can best contribute to whatever team you are a part of. But how do you accomplish a team goal? What guides you in determining how to best use your skills? What determines how you prepare and practice to be the best that you are capable of being? Strategy. The way that I look at it, there are two types of strategy that you must be aware of – whether you are a member of any team, a student-athlete or a dedicated athlete competing on the field of play. There is internal strategy and external strategy.

What is your internal strategy? For the purposes of this column, we will discuss this concept in athletic terms. Notice that I used the word “your” in that opening question. Internal strategy is what you control. As a member of a team and an athlete, you have some responsibilities. You are responsible for serving your team to the best of your ability and putting yourself in the best possible place to have a positive impact in your effort and your team’s effort to achieve success on the field of play. That is, after all, the ultimate goal of an athletic team – to achieve success and perform the functions of a game better than the other team and individuals that you are competing against. But how are you going to put yourself in a position to help accomplish that goal?

What is your strategy? See, there’s that concept. You have a choice to make. You could sit and do nothing. You could certainly do that – it’s easy. And you know what you are going to contribute and be able to do? Nothing. As an athlete and/or a student-athlete, your ability contribute depends on being both mentally prepared and physically prepared. You need to be conditioned and in good physical shape. You need to understand yourself and every piece of your team. You need to understand what you can do and what your teammates can do and why. You need to have practiced the skills required of you and your teammates. You need to have the ability to perform the physical skills required to achieve that over-arching team goals.

All of this should sound somewhat familiar, right? This sounds a lot like some of the life lessons and athletic preparation concepts that we have discussed in prior columns, doesn’t it. Self-awareness, teamwork, mastery and understanding of fundamental skills. This is all part of preparing yourself for success and is part of the internal strategy model. No, we do not sit idle and do nothing. We prepare ourselves. We study the game. We study and master the fundamentals and refine our skills. We study ourselves and our teammates until we become one heartbeat. We study our opponents and understand their tendencies just like our own. We condition our bodies so that they are in physically optimal shape. In sports, you are using your body in most cases. You need to be able to physically perform and have your body conditioned in the best possible manner in order to sustain athletic success. You need to understand how to best physically condition your body and why, as not every sport and activity requires the same physical skills and requirements. This is why some sports require lifting weights while others have more of an emphasis on running and conditioning. This is why understanding athletic position and biomechanics is so important. I will cover this in another column. The point is that our internal strategy should be actions taken to put ourselves, and our team, in the best possible position to achieve our goals. We will outwork and outperform our opponents. This is done through practice and staying in peak physical and mental condition.

Now that we have an understanding of what our internal strategy should look like, we can turn our attention to external strategy. External strategy is probably the one part of athletics that we are exposed to the most, yet realize we are seeing the least. Anytime you watch an athletic competition, you are watching an exercise in strategy. Really, any action we take in any setting can be viewed as an external strategy. It is the process and method in which we seek to achieve our goals. As an athlete, you can control your own game strategy. However, you are almost always adhering to a game plan put forth by your head coach. Thus, external strategy can be viewed as a coaching concept – one of the most important concepts. A coach will – or should – have an intricate understanding of their team and the skills/weaknesses that each and every one of their players has. Based on the skills and tendencies of the other team – and matched with your own team’s skills and tendencies – a strategy is formulated. You know what players have which skill set and your team should have a general mastery of the fundamentals. What do you do with those fundamentals? That is your external strategy. Are you aggressive? Defensive? Tactical? What is your general team concept in terms of how you score points, runs or goals? That is the chess match that makes sports exciting. External strategy based upon how your team strategizes internally. As a coach, this is the game. As a player, this is how you set yourself up for success.

I hope that you have found this helpful and we will discuss further in future columns.

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