Why the Importance of Strategy is Often Overrated...



Two players have similar physical/technical skills...On a 1-10 Helpfulness Scale Player A has a strategy of 7 but is only a 3 on the ability to apply the strategy when faced with mental challenges, while Player B has a strategy of 3 but is a 7 on the ability to apply the strategy when face with mental challenges. If they play 10 times, how many times do you think each player would win?

I think player B wins nearly every time. The reason?

When players compete they are frequently faced with very challenging mental experiences (nerves, frustration, outcome thoughts, etc). What tends to happen for most players at all levels of the game is that very quickly they begin to act based on these difficult internal experiences. At this point how good one’s strategy is becomes largely irrelevant because they can’t apply it when ‘caught up’ in the unintentional difficult match related mental challenges...And because nearly every circumstance throughout matches tends to frequently trigger unhelpful thoughts and feelings (e.g., starting matches - nerves, not hitting the ball well- frustration, opponent playing very well- helplessness, leading easily- over confidence, trying to finish a close match- outcome thoughts, etc), a foundational requirement for a player's strategy being of use is that they can first respond well to mental challenge. 

Case in Point: Novak Djokovic…

He described the Wimbledon final as the most mentally demanding match of his career… Huge pressure of the Wimbledon final playing the guy he most wants to beat…Has basically the whole crowd against him…Struggling to make returns throughout the match…Blows a 4-2 lead in the 5thset…And finds himself down 8-7 40-15 in the 5th

At this point for virtually every other player on the planet , the match is over because they are almost certainly caught up in the frustration and helpessness that the circumstances evoke. But not Novak… he is able to apply his strategy of trying to make it as tough as possible on Fed to get to the net only because of his incredible emotional fitness. What's important to realise is that the strategy is of secondary importance- what allows him to implement it...an insane ability to respond well to the internal mental turmoil that he would have been facing.

So at the end of the day, a slightly helpful strategy applied well will almost always beat a great strategy applied poorly. But regardless of how helpful a strategy is, for any strategy to be helpful, it is reliant on a player's ability to respond well to the difficult thoughts and feelings that are part of every match.

Increasingly, especially with the availability of data analytics, coaches and players place so much importance on applying the perfect strategy, that players don't spend enough time developing the required skills to successfully apply the strategy in the reality of matches.

Instead, what is usually most helpful is to work on ensuring a player has a somewhat helpful plan, while spending more time and effort on improving the keys that allow a player to apply the strategy when rough seas surely strikes.


Have a great week,