Tag Archives: underdogs

Underdogs

So…

If Facebook exchanges, texting and parent telephone calls are an indication, our Shockers have realized their own pain, and are quickly rallying themselves.

Can this signal and set the stage for their best days of the season – and, perhaps their finest hours as citizens?

We have a winning season behind us. No one can take that from a team that learned how to be winners and are learning how to grow through adversity. The looming District Cup represents nothing less than a splendid opportunity to make themselves proud and take on the entire state of Georgia as underdogs.

The New Yorker is always sort of hit and miss, for me, and the less said about some of their content the better, but every once in a while an article comes along that reminds me why I bother to read the thing in the first place.

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent piece on the phenomenon of underdogs beating superior foes is an engrossing and varied look at a subject that should be dear to anyone’s heart. His analysis is astute and inspiring, but also a tad provocative: underdogs frequently win, he says, and would win more, too, if only they knew how likely their victory actually was:

“David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.”

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.

[…]

Drawing on subjects as various as T.E. Lawrence and a pre-teen girls’ basketball team, he offers up several illustrations of the general principle of efforttrumping ability so long as that effort is being expended furiously and immediately. The example of the full-court press is frequently returned to, and he makes a number of good points about the importance of turning the tables on one’s more powerful opponent at once and forever rather than waiting for him to make the first move and establish the ground rules of the conflict. This naturally bears upon questions of insurgency (which he touches upon), but even if he were only writing about the girls and their ruthless program of basketball supremacy it would be worth reading.

I am not familiar with Mr. Gladwell’s work elsewhere (though he seems quite popular, judging by what I’ve seen in the stores), but this, at least, is certainly worth your time. We should exercise caution in taking these ideas as a solid ethical metric, for to do so would be to flirt with consequentialism, but there is much here that is of value for those engrossed in the dynamics of human competition.

Coach Brian