Is it right to try to win?

I find myself being drawn into the debate emerging, again, re tactics employed by managers and teams to win matches. This weekend in the GAA All Ireland Football Quarterfinals Tyrone stand accused in some quarters of very cynical play – designed to ensure they won a knock out match and progressed to the semifinals.  Star player, Sean Cavanagh, was awarded ‘man of the match’, but attracted lots of criticism for committing a ‘professional foul’ when an opposition player advanced on goal.  In their previous match both he and fellow star Stephen O’Neil were involved in ‘professional fouls’ late in the game.  I believe the players did what they did in the interests of their team – in the context of winning both matches.  Their manager has been incensed – he is seeking to protect players who he believes did not do anything wrong – not particularly out of line with what goes on in knock out championship matches.  And he points to the many fouls committed against his players in both games.

During the week I attended an outstanding cricket test match in England – Third Test of the Ashes series between England and Australia. There has been plenty of controversy in this series –   batsmen knowing they were out not ‘walking’, umpiring errors, deliberate slowing down of over rates by England as they seek a draw.

In the last couple of weeks we have had another two top sprinters unveiled as drug cheats.

What does all this tell us?  What is acceptable in trying to win and what is not acceptable?  How does it leave us feeling – us the players, the coaches, the spectators, the kids starting out in their sporting careers?  And obviously the above includes both professional (cricket and athletics) and amateur (GAA football)?

This year I find myself supporting a Dublin GAA  football team that seems to possess great speed and agility in attack – and benefits from ‘open play’.  So therefore we want fast flowing, foul free, play and trust that our skills and speed will bring us home as ultimate winners. But if I were coaching a team against Dublin and did not have the same speedy assets what tactics might I employ?  Without doubt I would look to break up the game, slow down the game, negate the influence of the very fast and skillful Dublin forwards – through denying them possession, crowding my defence, man to man marking, fouling – some combination of all of these  – whatever would work to enable me to counter their advantages.

Of course since I am supporting Dublin this lets me assume the higher moral ground (this year) – as I am supporting fast flowing, open football.  But what of the outer county and the other manager – to whom is he accountable?  In the first instance – to himself.  Thereafter to his players, their supporters and all those involved in the game more generally.  Some where in the middle of this is an expectation from his county that he will maximise their opportunity of winning – and will therefore design and implement tactics likely to overcome Dublin’s range of skills.

Today we saw Mayo ‘destroy’ the Donegal team which seemed to have perfected, in the last two years, massed defence, superior fitness and fast breaking football.  Mayo were not short of men in defence when required – but played Donegal ‘off the pitch’.  Many neutrals had high praise for Mayo and will no doubt believe that the negative tactics developed by Donegal have been seen off.

One other element of sport at a high level e.g. playing in front of 70,000 paying attendees in Croke Park yesterday, is to provide entertainment – some sense of ‘value for money’.  Kevin Pietersen did this yesterday in the Ashes Test match yesterday by scoring another century for England in the aggressive style in which he bats.  Brian Lara, possibly the greatest West Indian batsman of all time, says he saw himself as an entertainer No. 1 and a batsman No. 2.  Severiano Ballesteros claimed in his final TV interviews that his popularity was based on the range of shots he played – that’s why people wanted to come to see him play. But all three were also outstandingly competitive sportsmen focused on winning matches.  And they were three of the most talented – so entertaining the audience was part of their gift.

But would any of these GAA football teams mentioned – Donegal, Tyrone, Dublin or Mayo have achieved very much in terms of winning without developing and implementing tactics which maximise their opportunity to win – by emphasising their skills and limiting the potential of their opponents to succeed?  And is there anything wrong with this?

Very easy for commentators to criticise the manager and/or the team that seem to be less creative, limit the potential of the opposition to play ‘attractive’ football and focus on winning, potentially at the cost of the entertainment element of the game. I felt this frustration myself watching Tyrone yesterday but what does this ‘frustration’ really amount to?

Playing rugby in years past I remember being matched against a future international rugby player – who was 10cm taller than me, an outstanding footballer and able to jump far higher off the ground than me.  My objective was to find ways to prevent him catching the ball  – in the hope of limiting the damage he would do to our team. For part of the game I had some limited success – and did not even question for one second whether such an approach was ‘right’.  I was working with my inferior team to try to counteract one the opposition’s key weapons.

I think it is time for a few reality checks.  Some teams do not have the same skills as other teams. They will seek to develop and implement tactics which counter the opposition advantages – if they do not do this we will not have competitive matches.  Some of this behaviour will include breaking rules and accepting punishment e.g. frees, penalties, yellow cards and, even, red cards.  If the rules prove ineffective in counteracting unduly negative (probably difficult to define) behaviour then the rules need to be adjusted and implemented effectively by the relevant officials.

I have taken huge pleasure from playing, coaching and supporting/ spectating at sport.  I have experienced frustration in all roles – but overall the experience has been fantastic.  I would like to think that drug taking would have no part to play in sport – unfortunately it does and I would suggest should continue to be dealt with very harshly.  However in the case of coaches and players pushing the envelope to try to win I do not have much of an issue.  When I hold all the skills I am absolutely fed up to see there frustrated by less skillful teams.  But it is for me to figure this out – if I possess the skills.  Finally, the ‘professional foul’ is simply an assessment by the fouler (and potentially his coach/ team) – that the result is worth the punishment.  If you make the punishment sufficiently serious it will be cut out (and there will be some innocent victims) most professional fouls.  But sport is not perfect and we do not want it to be perfect.

As a coach to younger players I believe my responsibilities are primarily to assist in development of the players, ensuring they enjoy their sport and develop their skills.  But  I have no doubt that as coaches we will in years to come find ourselves looking to develop tactics to maximise the likelihood of winning specific matches.  I hope that what we do to try to win will be right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Detroit municipality declaring bankruptcy have any relevance for Ireland?

At first reading in today’s FT my take seems to be politicians saying ‘enough is enough’.  It would seem to be a case of saying ‘we cannot pay our bills’ and ‘we have cut our services enough – if not too much’.  Detroit is no longer capable of honouring its bond commitments, paying pensions and paying to run the minimum services required in the municipality.  And it has always been easy in the past to make commitments which have to be met out of future revenue raising activities.  But this seems to have come unstuck.

In Ireland we have maintained that we will pay back all our debt – by taking the pain (the AUSTERITY). Seems like this has left us with over 450,000 out of work, reduced (and failing) social services and, for now, some very generous pension commitments (all of which were contracted in previous times).  And the view from government (support by EU) has been – we must pay our way.  And not surprisingly, EU (Germany in particular) would like us to continue to pay our way.  All against a threat that whatever support/ relief we have obtained might come under pressure were we not to play ball.

Will be interesting to see how Detroit is bailed out in the US.  Obviously while there are some similarities there are many differences.

 

 

 

 

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Pillars of the Earth

Just finished listening to Ken Follett’s tome, The Pillars of the Earth.  40 hours of listening via audible.co.uk.  But have to say that it did not seem that long.  Thoroughly enjoyed Follett’s magnum opus.  It’s a long time since I read any historical novels.  The first  time I remember reading historical novels was Walter Macken’s trilogy – I think I read them 40 years ago.

Follett has reintroduced me to the 12th Century – in England.  Pillars of the Earth features interaction between royalty, church, landlords and peasants.  Mainly we read of god fearing people – although a number are more than willing to do horrendous deeds, so long as they have some expectation of forgiveness from some official of the church.  The author has awakened in me an interest in this period of history – by bringing alive the challenges of life then and the roles played by different people in society, be they monks, bishops, knights, landlords, labourers or kings.

Rather than try to summarise the plot myself I would refer the reader to the summary in Wikipedia.[schema type=”book” url=”http://ken-follett.com/bibliography/the_pillars_of_the_earth/” name=”The Pillars of the Earth” description=”Historical novel set in 12th Century in England” author=”Ken Follett” publisher=”Macmillan” edition=”First” isbn=”0-333-51983-3″ ebook=”yes” paperback=”yes” hardcover=”yes” ] .

Interesting to look back 900 years and see the intrigue between kings, landlords and church.  Each needed each other – and switched alliances as the opportunities/ threats arose.  Not that dissimilar to what we see taking place today, in terms of international alliances. However now the important relations are probably between states and between powerful multinationals and states – with lesser roles played by the church.  In the case of royalty their importance/ influence varies widely e.g. all powerful in the Middle East, less so in Europe.

Some of the brutality described in Follett’s novel is awful – the attacks on Knightsbridge, treatment of tenants unable to pay rents, various rapes.  But on reflection this does not seem any worse than what we recently witnessed in, say, the former Yugoslavia.  And in the 12th Century they did not have the potential for mass destruction which we have seen realised over the last hundred years.

Not sure that I am quite ready for another tome from Follett just yet.  In the immediate future will probably spend some time learning more about 12th Century Ireland and England.  But in due course am looking forward to reading his sequel.  Would strongly recommend Pillars of the Earth to anyone, whether with a passing interest in this period of history or looking for a good novel.

Of mice and men – John Steinbeck

Finally got to this book – listened to it,via www.audible.co.uk, over the last few days as I resumed my walking schedule.

This story took me back to my boyhood memories of all those westerns – with ranch hands living in bunkhouses.  In this case George and Lenny arrive at the ranch looking for work. Lenny is in the care of George.  Lennie is a giant of a man but would be classified as special needs.

The book deals with a number of subjects: the ranch owner’s son (Curley), who has notions about himself, and his new wife who is ‘giving the eye’ to anyone looking.  There is one African American – he is not allowed to sleep in the same bunkhouse.  And we have various other characters – Candy (the ranch hand at the end of his career) and Slim, the strong silent type who seems to command everyone’s respect.

George has spent several years looking out for Lennie.  Lennie is apt to fall into traps set for him – which tend to result in his getting into trouble because of his sheer size and strength.  The story centres on George’s attempt to safeguard Lennie in this environment.

I did not think this was one of Steinbeck’s better efforts.  I thought the plot was too predicable and lacked for any real sense of tension.  I thought the character developed was quite limited.

 

 

 

 

 

Way back when – The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Just finished listening to ‘The Burgess Boys’.  Excellent story of two brother and their sister – I guess calling the book ‘the Burgess brothers and their sister’ was too much hard work.

The book is set in New York and Maine and concerns two brothers living in New York and their sister living in Maine.  The brothers are both lawyers – Jim (the elder)  a successful corporate lawyer, Bob, the other operating at the other end of the scale.  And their sister, Susan (Bob’s twin)  lives with her son Zach in a small town, Shirley Falls,  in Maine, where they all grew up.

Zach gets in trouble and his uncles ‘ride into town’ to sort out the problems.  Well, first Bob arrives and then Jim, as the reinforcement.  In fact Jim seeks to control the process and directs the actions to be taken by both Bob and Susan.

From early on it is apparent that we are going to learn about the siblings background, their early childhoods, their family upbringing, their rivalries and something that happened when they were quite young.  We also see their adult lives, their failed or challenged marriages and how they have managed or struggled to stay in touch as their careers, relocation and their new family lives have separated them.

We have some excellent insights into Jim’s life – married to Helen (who is independently wealthy), a very successful lawyer with many of the trappings of success, but struggling with some of the compromise and required socialising with other partners in the law firm.  The golf trip is nicely juxtapositioned with the breaking crisis for Zach and his mother.  We also see how Jim struggles to readjust when reimmersed in Shirley Falls,.

On the face of it Jim and Helen have an excellent relationship – but there are elements of ‘Gatsby’ about some parts of  their lives.  There appears to be a level of boredom, lack of direction or meaning.  Some of this comes across clearly in descriptions of Helen’s activities – one of the ‘ladies who do lunch’ in New York.

We also see how Bob struggles and we meet his ex-wife and some other friends.  We learn more about Bob in seeing how he inter relates with Jim and Helen, his neighbours, his sister and various other characters.  During the course of the Zach issue Bob meets up with some old friends in Shirley  Falls and generally rebuilds his relationship with his sister.  His relationship with Jim – as the younger, less successful brother, develops as Jim’s world unfolds.

Susan is the mother who is struggling to bring up Zach on her own – and experiences real self-doubt/ guilt when Zach gets in trouble.  She is less worldly-wise – at least on first meeting her – than her brothers and is inclined to imagine the worst and be panicked into action.

The interaction between the two brothers and their sister is intriguing and well-developed throughout the novel by Strout..  And there are a number of surprises for the reader which will hold your attention.  I found the book fascinating as an examination of relationships between siblings – Zach’s issues just provide an opportunity and a reason for more focused interaction between the three of them in later adult life.  In some respects it reminds of situations we all find ourselves in when travelling to a funeral and spending longer together than planned.

As someone with a number of siblings I found the book interesting in that it stimulated some thinking/ reflection re sibling relationships – and how they may develop or be constrained in adult life, as additional people e.g. spouses, become involved in our lives, as people relocate, as careers develop differently, as children arrive.  But Elizabeth Strout, the author, reminds us clearly of the importance of those initial relationships based on childhood and how these can survive many of the challenges over the years.  The underlying message is blood relationships are critical and should last the test of time.

I would have little hesitation in recommending the book to friends.  Good character development and interaction and plenty of material on which to reflect.

 

What do we mean or suggest by a German hegemony in 2013?

Just read two articles from the Irish Times: Derek Scally’s piece: Germany would have much to lose from a Eurozone failure., and Dan O’Brien’s Paying German workers more is a win-win fro Europe.

Both pieces are written from a different angle while both recognising the power and influence now exercised by Germany across Europe.

We are well familiar with the argument that bad bank debt which has been socialised in Ireland (and other peripheral countries) should have been partly written off in Germany/ France – as bad lending.  And doubtless Germany would maintain that the purchase of bonds by ECB and the extension of cheap finance to peripheral countries  – in as much as this is part financed by Germany – is i nfact Germany accepting write offs.

Hegemony is not a word I use in every day life.  I note it’s use recently by our President – in his reference to Europe’s hegemonic economic model.  Adn Derek Scally references the concept in the context of Germany’s current influence.  It has been used many times in the past by those critical of US influence across the globe.  Looking to wikipedia, I read: ‘In the praxis of hegemony, imperial dominance is established by means of cultural imperialism, whereby the leader state (hegemon) dictates the internal politics and the societal character of the subordinate states that constitute the hegemonicsphere of influence, either by an internal, sponsored government or by an external, installed government. The imposition of the hegemon’s way of life — an imperial lingua franca and bureaucracies (social, economic, educational, governing) — transforms the concrete imperialism of direct military domination into the abstract power of the status quo, indirect imperial domination.[1]Under hegemony, rebellion (social, political, economic, armed) is eliminated either by co-optation of the rebels or by suppression (police and military), without direct intervention by the hegemon; examples are the latter-stage Spanish and Britishempires, the 19th- and 20th-century reichs of unified Germany (1871–1945),[7] and currently, the United States of America.[8]

Seems only yesterday we were witnessing the unification of Germany and all of the serious social and economic challenges facing Germany at that time.  Interesting to understand what potentially moved Germany from its then status to it current perceived status as a hegemon?  Has it been the currency, the profligate spending of some nations, sustained conservatism in Germany or was it more subtle?  Or is the case overstated?  Clearly in Ireland there is national feeling that our sovereignty, our independence has been undermined, compromised – at least for the short term, hopefully not permanently.   The decision making of local, nationally elected politicians, is much less relevant.  Hence the talk of a European or German hegemony.  And I think President Higgins was questioning  the motivation of some of the hegemonic influences.

It remains to be seen how these current imbalances across Europe will play out.  Time will tell whether Europeans want such a hegemony – or whether, perhaps, the case is overstated.

Review of @AJKeen #digital vertigo

One of the very few books I have reread.

Andrew Keen’s book is a brilliant critique of social networking as we know it.

Keen did his research – be that it looking back to ancient philosophers, the history of computing, social change in the US and globally – and has managed to explain much of what has happened.

The book is interesting in that he builds it (1) around his interactions at a conference in Oxford, with a number of the  ‘leading lights’ of social networking and (2) the characters of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, ‘Vertigo’.  He  quotes widely from those who promote the benefits of  social networking and those, like himself, who doubt its real value.

He does not mince his words (P118) – ‘you see, social media has been so ubiquitous, so much the connective tissue of society that we’ve all become like Scottie Ferguson, victims of a creepy story that we neither understand nor control…It’s a postindustrial truth of increasingly weak community and a rampant individualism of super-nodes and super-connectors’.

The references alone could tie you up for weeks.  But I believe he has done all of us a service in highlighting what’s wrong with much of what is being put over as good for society.  Well worth taking the time to read.

Questioning the value of the online experience

Just finished reading Digital Vertigo by Andrew Keen.  Excellent book – should be compulsory reading for anyone like me who spends a reasonable amount of time participating in/ contributing to social networks.  Questions the value of much of this – and the gradual elimination of privacy.  More of this anon.

This piece from the Verge provides another perspective.  Paul Miller has recently completed 12 months ‘offline’.  And while he saw/ experienced benefits he missed the online experience and the online community.

The reality is that online communities do not replace traditional communities, facebook friends do not equate with ‘friends’ – but they do provide another communications channel. I think, as more and more data is gathered (e.g. location fro mobile devices) privacy is greatly undermined – if not eliminated.  But here is Miller admitting he missed it.

Swings and round abouts.  I probably stay in contact with some people (primarily in other countries) on a more regular basis because of social networks. But perhaps some of the communication is lesser than were I to phone more often, travel to meet more often write more letters.

 

 

 

 

What makes teams pull through?

Three recent football matches again had me thinking about what we are often looking for in work.

Munster won a Heineken Cup quarterfinal  match against the odds away to Harlequins.  Leinster won against Munser in Thomond Park.  And last night I watched an underage GAA football team turn at half time to play into a strong wind, go behind and fight back to win by a couple of points.

And sport is full of these types of circumstances.  But what attracts me is that sense of togetherness, common purpose, that enables a team to overcome the odds.  Yes it requires some of the top players to prove their worth but operating in a team sense – providing leadership, shouldering responsibility, encouraging others.  And lesser players (and least lesser in the public eye) are equally important. Tactics are important and luck will also play its part.  And support from spectators should not be underestimated – although all three games were won playing away from home i.e. with relatively small, but loyal, support teams.

The recent Masters golf tournament was a similar event – even if the teams are down to the player and the trusted caddy.  But there were lessons – in terms of how both players attacked the 18th and attacked the play off holes.  Technique, commitment, trust between caddy and player and finally, I think, one being a little luckier than the other.  But all congratulations to both Angel Cabrera, the runner up, and to Adam Scott, the winner.

The purpose of this post is not to replace the tomes written previously about application of sports principles in business, etc.  But I see so many business failures which can be tracked to the absence of that team spirit – or a gradual fading of the spirit .  All of the teams mentioned have their bad days – but they do understand that feeling of pulling together, leaders encouraging, supporters working in the background, trust and respect and going the extra yard for common gain.  And the successful teams have it in more depth and more often.  And when the luck goes against them they come out fighting again.