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:
- you are tied with your opponent going into the last hole.
- You play after your opponent.
- Your opponent has made a very low score.
- 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.