There is no [U]Strategy[/U] in Running or Golf

I have had this debate with people before, and this thread about the difference between tactics and strategy reminded me of it.

I claim that running (all track and field), weightlifting, golf and rowing are not strategic sports. Bicycle racing, football, basketball all are strategic sports. Of the 4 major sports in the U.S., I think football the most strategic, and Baseball the least. Yes, that’s right, I am saying there is essentially NO strategy in Golf and little in baseball.

What do I mean by strategy? They key point is that in a strategic sport you must take account of what your opponent is doing and modify your actions based on what he does. If it is possible to ignore your opponent and do your thing, you are not doing a strategic sport.

Another aspect of strategy is that sometimes you will take actions that are usually detrimental, because the previous actions of your opponent have changed the relative benefits of your actions. Examples of this are: Fowling the opponent when trailing near the end of a basketball game, spiking the ball on 1st down to stop the clock in football, intentionally walking a batter in baseball, and pulling the goalie in hockey.

Obviously football involves strategy (by the way, I am American so by ‘football’ I mean that sport where we use the appendages that distinguish us as Humans (Primates at any rate) not that game for little girls called soccer). If a defense has several deep safetys and only 2 pass rushers, a running play is called for, not a pass.

What about running? I contend that the best way to try and win a race, at any distance, is to run in the fashion that will minimize the amount of time to get to the goal. You do this independently of what other racers do. If someone tries to ‘set the pace’ or ‘be a rabbit’ by running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace, you just ignore him. The same idea works in a weightlifting contest or a golf game. In playing in the early rounds of a golf tournament, the action you should take is to hit the ball in such a way as to minimize the number of strokes it takes to make this hole, and you do that for almost all holes of the tournament. The only exception I can see would be when:

  1. you are tied with your opponent going into the last hole.
  2. You play after your opponent.
  3. Your opponent has made a very low score.
  4. You have two alternatives: One a risky shot which on average will result in a higher expected number of strokes, but has some chance of being a lower score and the regular, stroke-minimizing shot. In this case you would alter your usual practice of playing the minimizing shot, and instead try to put it through the trees
    instead of going around them.

Note the difference between marathon running and bicycle racing (I mean the kind of bike racing where the two competitors race together, and the rules do not preclude them from doing what I describe). The fact that you can draft behind someone to save energy and then try to pass him at the finish line changes the strategy from what I described above (for marathoning) to a balancing contest. Neither biker wants to start off the race, because his competitor will draft him, and get a big advantage.

Don’t tell me that I just don’t know enough about your favorite sport. I have run and golfed. I am not near pro skill in either, but pointing that out to me is not going to change my opinion. I put it to you that all the ‘head games’, ‘gamesmanship’ and ‘strategy’ you are used to hearing an announcer talk about are creations to try and add more drama.

I want to add a little more about baseball, as after golf, I think that will get the most disagreement. By its nature, baseball is more of a series of individual contests stiched together than are football or basketball. In the latter two sports, you try and get a situation where many of your guys are doing the important things to a few of their guys, and the rest of their guys are in a situation where they are not having much effect on the outcome of the play and hence the game. This is not done much in baseball. Bringing the outfield in , in situations where a hit or a fly ball will win the game is one strategic action. Shifting fielders around for a batter who has a strong hitting tendency (pull hitter or opposite field), bunting are others. But it seems to me that in the ordinary course of a baseball game the best play for a defense is clear before the ball is put in play, and the best course of action for each offensive player is to try and hit the ball as best he can. To the extent that differences in hitting style are fixed with each player (power hitter vs. hitting for average) as opposed to each at bat, a batter will not adjust his swing to the game situation.

Moderator’s Note: I think this falls more under the “frank exchanges of views” heading than it does under the “long-running discussions”, so I’m moving it to IMHO.

While I would agree with much of what you are saying, I think that a case can be made for strategy in the Matchplay version of golf. Ernie Els is one of the world’s best matchplay golfers, not just because he is also one of the world’s best golfers, but because tactically he is superb as well. One of his favorite tactics is not asking his opponents to make the final putt to win or halve a hole in the early stages and then, when the match gets more serious, insisting that they make the easiest of putts. This has the effect of leaving the opponent without practice at the shorter putts until it really counts, and also has the effect of doubling the pressure at a crucial time - as he might have been expecting Ernie to concede the shot, and now has to make it instead…

Strokeplay - I concede…

The other point that I would argue would be middle distance track events (800 and 1500m) - when someone goes off quickly, there is a real chance that they might be able to sustain the pace through the whole race, and it becomes a tactical choice whether to follow their pace or not.


So if it is not a debate about war or religion it goes here?
'Cause I’m gonna get flamed: did you hear my heresy !? “There’s no crying in baseball and no strategy either!”


To take your example of running. Could a runner not view his own body as his ‘opponent’, and devise a ‘strategy’ to manage his physical resources so as to win the race or set a personal-best time in a marathon?

A: "How do you plan to break that four-hour milestone in the marathon this year, having come so close in the past? "
B: “I’m planning on carbo-loading at dinner the night before - but not as much as last year, and I’m going to pay more attention to my water intake at mid-race.”

Obviously, this American Football of which you speak has much strategy, because all four limbs may be employed! It is indeed a tragedy that the curse which is soccer wreaks such a havoc on the rest of the world. As an American, it is your duty to spread the news of the wonders of the True Football to the unenlighted, girlish peoples of the world.

You seem to be contradicting yourself, since sprinting for the whole marathon will obviously minimize the amount of time it takes to finish the race. Unless, of course, you have a strategy which involves reducing your speed in a carefully balanced trade-off for longer-term endurance. Would it then be a tactic, to ignore the opponent who is foolish enough to adopt a strategy of mismanaging his bodily resources?

Regarding baseball, I would posit that the players employ their skills as “tactics”; the managers and coaches implement a strategy to put the players in positions where their skills can work best - by selecting pitchers, formulating lineups, putting in new players, and signing plays, they are not unlike officers directing troops.

I think golf includes strategy, perhaps it’s a bit rudimentary, but it’s there. If you need to get a 63 to win the tournament, you will play a much different game than if you need a 70 to win. Deciding to use a 2-iron off the tee instead of your Driver is a tactical decision based on your strategy of playing conservatively.

Your Football example is a bit wonky. The decision to run instead of pass is clearly tactical if you base it on the defense your opponent is showing. Your strategy might be indicated by a 5 play set that you’re thinking about, but how you run each play individually is a tactical decision to try and get the most out of each play.

WRT marathon running and golf, of course the goal is to have the lowest time, or lowest score, but that singular goal doesn’t mean there is no strategy. In war, the goal is usually to defeat your opponent’s armed forces, a simple goal, but with a ton of strategy behind it.

No strategy in baseball? So you don’t move your infield out if you’ve got a big hitter? Or in if you suspect a bunt? And if the infield moves out for the big hitter, you don’t consider bunting? You don’t climb the ladder with pitches - trying to avoid the sweet spot and throwing the last pitch high? You don’t steal to get a guy into scoring position with one out because you are one run down in the eighth? You don’t try to get the lead runner out if possible - and try not to worry about the guy on first? You don’t ever swap hitters because they’ve put in a left handed pitcher? Guess all those signs managers and coaches use are just a bunch of hand waving.

And golf? If you are playing for your own best score, than you are your competition. But if you are playing in a tournament, you don’t play conservatively and avoid the water if you are ahead? You don’t play all out and go over the water if you are trailing? You can shoot for the safe part of the green - or the part that will enable you to sink the put in one, but if you miss you are in a deep sand trap - which do you choose? If your opponent is ahead or close behind you, your choice will be different than if you have a three stroke lead.

The pace of the game is slower in golf - you don’t make your decisions based on what your opponent did a minute ago - but maybe based on what he did yesterday.

While there isn’t much to strategize in sprinting (at least not during the race), there definitely is strategy in long-distance running.

The goal isn’t to have the lowest time possible, it’s to be the first one across the finish line. You have to balance out your speed vs. your remaining energy so that you don’t get outrun by your opponent or end up dropping out from exhaustion. Morale can also play a large role. By putting on a burst of extra speed midway through a race, you risk draining yourself, but you could also open up a demoralizing gap between you and the next runner. You could also induce your opponent to put on a burst of his own, possibly causing him to run out of steam and drop out. On the other hand, many runners perform better when there’s a challenger nearby to spur them on, so letting an opponent pull ahead by himself may also serve to drain his energy before the final push.

To know which course is the one to take, you have to know your opponents, and you need to have a thorough understanding of your own capabilities. Strategy.

grimpixie is right on the money concerning match play in golf. When the number of strokes over the game is irrelevant, and what matters is winning, losing, or halving each hole, the “end of game” decisions characterized in the OP have the potential to occur at every hole.

Even in stroke play, there is an element of strategy discounted by the OP. At my level of play, consider a hole that’s 125 yards worth of fairway to the water and 75 yards of water. Do you lay up with a midrange iron or count on your ability to hit a drive far enough to clear the water from the tee?

I can tell you that if I’m hitting second, and my opponent lays up, I’ll feel much safer in also hitting the layup shot. But if my opponent booms one across the water, I’ll be at a disadvantage laying up, and I’ll feel I have to also try the big drive or go down a stroke. (Of course, if my opponent hits the drink, then I’ll feel GREAT about my layup shot!)

Similarly, if I’m hitting first, and the shot’s an iffy one, I’ll make my decision based both on what I think my skills will let me do AND what I think my opponent will do. All things being equal, I might well try the monster drive if it’ll put pressure on my opponent.

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Hey, what’s the big deal about clearing a 200 yard drive over water?” then feel free to adjust the yardages until it’s an inffy shot for you. John Daly, I ain’t.

  • Rick

of course there is a strategy in running.

you must either outpace your competitor immedately (short distance) or pace yourself and kick at the right moment (long distance).

I’d love to see you actually play a game of football, and see how well you cope. You wouldn’t come off the pitch thinking it’s a “little girls” game any more.

First, random digs at soccer just make you seem like an adolescent.

To the argument, any sport where you would play more conservatively if your opponent faltered meets your definition of “strategic”. If your goal is just to win the competition, you will do the minimum needed to win. The minimum is determined by your competition. Seems simple to me. Bricker gave the specific examples in golf.

I agree with what Sublight said.

I’ll concur with Sublight as well. I don’t know jack about sprinting, but I spent fours years of high school running races of two miles or longer, and there are many psychological issues in distance running. It always helps to know your opponent …

You can beat some people by pushing the pace early. If you get a good lead, they’ll get discouraged and run a poor race; even if this costs you some time over the course of the race, if it costs them more then it’s worth it. Other runners (like me, for example) like to have targets to shoot for. I would spend a race nibbling away at even a very large gap, then start my stretch accelleration a bit earlier than most and pass near the end.

Thank you, Sublight.

djbdjb: Did you get cut from the varsity squad last week or what? There are very few sports that don’t require strategy. It seems that your entire arguement is based on separating the sports that you enjoy from the ones you don’t. Therefore, soccer (the sport for “little girls”) has no strategy, but football involves it on every play.

Now Pro Wrestling…Script: yes. Strategy: no.

I had this argument many times when I was in high school. I was, you see, a wrestler, whereas my girlfriend was a swimmer. I still maintain that swimming - sprints, at any rate - is entirely form-oriented and has no strategy involved. Wrestling, while it is form-related to an extent, requires a much more flexible mind.

This is not to say anything is WRONG with entirely form-related sports. Hell, I threw shot and disc for years.

However, in distance running, there is most certainly strategy involved, as has been noted above.

Well, if you redefine “strategy” to fit your thesis, of course you’re going to prove your point.

If, however, we use a dictionary definition (instead of one created solely to make your point):

Using definition 2 and 3, it’s quite clear both golf and running do have strategies. In running, you can plan to take an early lead, or go stay off the pace. In sprinting, the strategy is to run as fast as you can – trivial, but still a strategy.

In golf, there are many ways to attack a hole. Do you play it safe or try to drive over the water hazard? Are you two strokes ahead or two strokes behind?

I disagree with the contention that baseball has the least strategy. In fact, I believe it has the most strategy. The beauty of baseball is that every move has potential positive and negative consequences. Just to name one situation:

Tie score, 6th inning- runner on 3rd, 1 out. Do you pitch to the batter with the infield in? This minimizes the chance of scoring on an infield hit, but the offense will have a better chance to put a grounder through the infield, scoring the run and opening up a potential big inning. Or do you walk the batter, setting up the double play. Might be smart if the current batter is Barry Bonds, might be ridiculous if the next batter is Barry Bonds. If the batter has good bat control, do you play up on the corners looking for the squeeze? Do so, and the batter might slap it right past you.

This is just one situation out of dozens on which a close game can turn. No strategy? I don’t think so.

So, is there any strategy employed in bowling? And if not, how can bowling commentators make a living just saying, “Wow, great shot”?

So, is there any strategy employed in bowling? And if not, how can bowling commentators make a living just saying, “Wow, great shot”?

I’m no pro bowler, but from what I’ve seen, the strategy in bowling, comes from calculating the odds of picking up a tough spare versus going for the sure thing, and figuring what overall effect this would have on the game.

Also you might have to continually adjust your form for the situation -dry vs overly lubed lanes, etc.

Bowling on a serious league or tournament level will entail the same strategy already discussed.

If you see the scores posted are extremely high, you’ve got to adjust your shot to be more aggressive. Too much, and you run the risk of the DAMNED 10-pin leave consistently (from overpowering).

Lane conditioning is a big factor in the game. Also, the breakdown of the oiling pattern as the games progress will make me change my shot up to 15-20 boards. Atmospheric conditions can also play into your shot strategy, knowing that a warmer environment will make the oil break down, and carry down the lanes faster.

All of those points are part of the strategy of bowling.