by | September 25, 2013, 5:54am 0


What advice would you give a team going into a game against a superior opponent? If the other team does everything better than you, what gives you the best shot at pulling off the upset?

Not the Favorite


The most important thing is to manage expectations – which are delicate and dangerous things.  On the one hand, you are unlikely to win this kind of game, so expecting to win is kind of stupid.  At the same time, it isn’t a very good long term strategy to make excuses for defeat – you are just setting up a situation where losing is okay.  It is a very tricky line to walk – a kind of double think is necessary – and above all a crystal clear view of where you are and where you want to be.

These kind of mental gymnastics are for long term team building; what about trying to win a game in a crucial situation where you are completely outgunned?  We are halfway between the two Regionals weekends here in the States, so there are lots of teams finding themselves in this spot.

The most important piece is to take advantage of your opportunities.  Whether is a rash of miscues early that let you steal a lot of breaks or weak defense that lets you hang around late into the game, there is a necessary element of luck.  (If your ‘superior opponent’ hits on all cylinders, you will lose.)

Team-wide, you want to emphasize defense.  Any upset game becomes a test of mental strength and pressure as the favorite ramps up the effort and makes a push to victory.  95% of the time the inferior team can’t keep pace and fades away down the stretch.  Emphasizing defense allows you to generate pressure of your own and also lets you keep your focus on the positive, even as you go through a patch of struggles.

Substitute loose early.  You will win this game on the back of your stars, but you can’t play them the whole way and expect to hold on at the end.  If you play them the whole way, you set the other team up to pull away from you – right as your opponent begins to make their push, your stars are tired and you’ve got no headroom to step up into.  By playing fairly open early, your stars are rested and ready to play point after point after point down the stretch, improving your play as theirs improves.

Strategize for your opponent.  In many of these situations you have the advantage of knowing your opponent very well – better in fact, than they know you.  Good teams get filmed, their players get noticed and watched.  You don’t have to get all crazy and invent some special defense; on the contrary, sticking to what you do well is likelier to be effective.  The best adjustments are little ones to the game plan you already have.  Things like defined match-ups, which defenders not to test, knowledge of pull plays and offensive tendencies are invaluable and can make a huge difference.



I haven’t read a lot of theology nor a lot of Catholic theology so there is a lot I am missing, but I was struck by the deep thinking about leadership and institutions in Pope Francis’ recent series of interviews.  Although his angle is obviously different, I found his views on leadership surprisingly similar to my own: that leadership is the servant of greater tasks, authoritarianism is brittle and there is much strength in trusting others.


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Feature photo by William Brotman – UltiPhotos.com

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