Racing strategically

Unless you've been tucked away in a mountain retreat on holiday, you won't have missed the IAAF athletics taking place in Stratford, London, over the last few weeks. From Bolt losing to Gatlin in the 100m final, to Makwala running solo in the wake of the norovirus outbreak to qualify for the men's 400m, the event has been spectacular.

I couldn't help noticing a recurring theme in the commentary from sports pundits, with numerous authorities describing how athletes have been competing 'strategically' in their events. For example, Michael Jordan commented how Allyson Felix, the USA 200m sprinter, adopted a race strategy to take the curve with her fellow competitors in sight and then chase them down on the straight, taking the lead in the final stages. Sorry Michael, but this is not a strategy.

To achieve her objective she would have to run faster than her rivals...

Whilst running the race, Allyson would have to adopt certain tactics in order to achieve her objective, which was undoubtedly to win and walk away with a gold medal. To win, she would have to run faster than her rivals. Allyson's strategy was to train hard, really hard, making her quicker, stronger and better prepared to take on the world's top 200m runners. Her strategy will likely have included tactics such as training at altitude, up hills, track drills and sprints at various heart rates in different zones, equipping her with the necessary abilities to take the top prize. Allyson then employed these tactics on race day, although not as well as she might have hoped in Stratford as she lost gold to a fellow US competitor.

I think you meant tactics there, Michael

The word 'strategy' is currently used with such carefree abandon to describe clever or innovative approaches to achieve goals that it's true meaning has become lost. As a result of this misunderstanding, it is applied incorrectly by so many who claim to be strategic.

This is true in business too, with managers authoritatively throwing the phrase around to elevate their activities to a more intelligent level. However, few that I've encountered are truly strategic in their approach to achieving objectives, and fail to set a long term vision with a strategy to make that vision a reality. Many opt for short term tactic-only practices with no clear objectives, which increases the likelihood of failure or even knowing if you've achieved that objective! Maybe Allyson's tactics were at fault on the night, or maybe her strategy didn’t utilise those tactics correctly. She may have simply been suffering from the onset of norovirus, who knows, I hear there's a lot of it about.

Find out how we can help your organisation become more strategic:

Get in touch