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Playing the Long Game

A batsman going after a delivery in Cricket
Photo by michael weir on Unsplash

I love sport analogies. Taking a mental model from a particular sport and applying it to different areas of life is always an interesting mental exercise. This post describes one that I keep coming back to.

I was once in a heated situation at work and responding to someone when another colleague told me something profound. He said: “Do you know you don’t have to react to everything?”. This stayed with me for a while. It sounded familiar to something I had heard about a decade before that experience. I was in my teens and playing Cricket in the nets, and batting against the leather ball for the first time. I kept edging a lot of deliveries. The coach came up to me and said something along the lines of: “Do you know you don’t have to hit every ball?”.

As Cricket itself has evolved into different formats, I keep thinking about this analogy. Test Cricket, which is considered to be the purest form, is played over the longest timespan. As a batsman, success in no other format beats what one achieves in Test Cricket. But success here is hard-earned. One has to be prepared to let a lot of deliveries go, and be very choosy about which deliveries to score off of. This is in stark contrast to T20 Cricket, which has a way shorter timespan, where the norm is more and more to look to maximise each delivery while placing a smaller premium on one’s wicket. So “letting a delivery go” is out of fashion here.

What the above tells me is that the longer the game one is in, the more they have got to be able to let something go. And not just let it go, but take it off their mind and start from blank for the next thing coming their way. Reacting to everything is something one does when having a shorter-term mindset.

A thing to note is that taking any model to the extreme is usually counter-productive. Just like leaving every delivery in Test Cricket and never scoring much becomes pointless after a while (and gets one dropped from the team), so is never reacting to anything. The trick is always choosing just the right things to react to and let most of the other things alone. Easier said than done, of course.

Related resource: The Infinite Game

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