Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rules of Engagement

Ladies, I know it's tempting but please resist the urge to throw your underwear at us.

I'm pretty good at most sports. I tend to learn the rules of engagement and create basic strategies that allow me to excel/win. Combined with decent coordination and athletics I'm more than happy to play most sports recreationally or competitively.

That being said, I suck at golf and soccer. I've demonstrated time and time again that the best I'll ever be is a double-digit handicapper and my coordination doesn't include foot "dexterity".

For the games that I can't win in, I'd rather not play.

Chalk that up to my competitive personality.

But what if you have to play and what if you have to win? And what if you're disadvantaged in every way? That if you play the game as it is designed, you're bound to lose?

Then you better change the rules of engagement.

In high school I played badminton. Being that I went to high school in Asia, badminton was actually a "cool" sport. Okay, it was never cool but it wasn't comprised of chess club and Dungeons and Dragons. I played first seed both junior and senior year but in junior year I was still developing as a player.

In the season end tournament of my junior year we faced the International School of Manila (Philippines) for the championship. We'd seen them in the round robin leading up to the championship so we knew what we were up against. In the round robin they edged us out 3-2. Basically we won with our #2 doubles and #3 singles. They beat us with their #1 doubles, and both #1 and #2 singles.

Yeah, I lost in the round robin.

Not only did I lose the round robin match against their #1 singles player, but I got my ass kicked and dropped 2 sets in a row. It wasn't even close. It wasn't like it went 3 sets and tie-breakers. I lost in 2 straight sets and trailing with a single-digit score(first to 15 wins). This guy finished the round robin winning 3 matches and losing 1 match. I finished the round robin winning only 1 match and losing 3 matches. He was faster, taller, stronger and he was better looking. In retrospect he was better than me in nearly every way.

Except one. Stamina.

I realized (too late of course) that in my round robin match against him that he showed sluggishness towards the end of the second set. Extrapolating on that, I figured that if I could drag the match out 3 sets, I might actually have a chance of beating him. But how could I drag things out against a player that outclassed me in nearly every single skill set?

As I pondered that question, the championship matches played out. And as expected, history repeated itself. Before I even played my match the two teams were tied 2-2 with the #1 singles game becoming the deciding factor for the championship.

FML. FML even before that expression existed.

So I employed the only strategy that could potentially close the gap between our skill levels. I pushed the pace of the match to exploit his lack of stamina and I never let him have a chance to rest. Between points, I'd scoop up the shuttle quickly and hustle back to either receive or serve. If I was serving, I'd get into serving position quickly and pressure him to receive sooner. It was blitzkrieg. While both of us were dying in the summer heat/humidity in that ill-ventilated indoor gym, I got what I wanted. He was deteriorating faster than I was.

And that's all the opportunity I needed.

I remember little of the match (it was 18 years ago) except that we had the whole gym's attention. We were the only match left so everyone had gathered to watch. And it was eerily quiet during our points. I remember he lost his shoe during one point (he was lazy about tying his shoes). I also remember his racquet flying out of his hands during another point (must have been sweaty palms or my 5 MPH line drives). But as I expected, he fatigued as the match dragged on. And although I lost the first set, I survived the second set. And that gave me the opportunity I needed to break him. The match actually dragged into the tiebreaker of the last set. And still I pushed the pace as I had throughout the whole match, relying on over-training and will power to pull me through.

And that's the point. Sometimes you can't beat them playing their game. Sometimes your opponent is more talented, more experienced, gifted even. And it's during those instances that you realize your only chance at winning is to change the rules of engagement. It's one of the things that Phil Jackson did phenomenally. He didn't break the rules, but rather manipulated them so that the opponent was always working against something. Whether it was an ill-timed timeout during free throws or playing mind games with the referees, Phil was always changing the rules of engagement.

Of course if you can win playing the regular game and you are dominating your competition, then none of these little things matter. But whether it's photography, badminton, or basketball, the competition is fierce and your opponents are often better than you'd like them to be. So sometimes changing the rules of engagement is your only shot at winning.

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