Check: Goals, Strategies, and Tactics

I have been talking a lot with my athletes about strategy and tactics lately. There was initially some confusion because in our colloquial speech they are often used interchangeably. It requires only a short, simple explanation to set things right.

A strategy is nothing more than a plan. Precisely a plan to address a specific goal. Tactics are the individual actions taken to implement that plan. So it goes goal, strategy, tactic — in that order. You devise specific a specific plan to attack a specific goal, and you put the plan into action using the right tactics.

If we look at chess, there are no tactics. You only have a choice in your strategy. Each player is limited to only one tactic. That is, when it is your turn, you can only take one action: to move one of your pieces in accord with its allowed parameters. You choose the piece, but you only have one action, and thereby only one tactic. You cannot choose to "pass" or any other tactic. You move one piece, and then the other player does likewise. However, there are many strategies you might employ. The overall goal is to capture the opponent's king.

But the plan that you use to try to do so is your strategy. This is where your creativity comes alive. You aren't allowed to make up your own chess moves like "jumping men" or some U-shaped move. No new creative tactics permitted in chess. But you are at liberty to come up with any new strategy your heart desires in an effort to achieve the goal of checkmate.

I'm a poor excuse for a chess player, but I hope you get the picture. Now, let's look at the weight room. There is plenty of room for creativity in both strategy and tactics here.

We must start with a well-defined specific goal before we consider our strategy. Let's choose maximum muscle strength, defined as a one-rep max lift in the squat. How we achieve this strength is our strategy. We start with a plan for our workout schedule. How many days per week of leg work, how many rest days between them, exercise selection, accessory work, using barbells or machines, sets and reps, our daily caloric intake, our hours of sleep per night, etc. This is a normal strategy. Permit me to suggest some often-overlooked arenas for inclusion in your strategy (you may have seen this coming). Including some mental aspect of training the mind by, say, the tactic of visualization, has been found to have great impact for many.

Does your strategy include something like this? Adding calming, self-soothing, meditation or relaxation has had positive results in almost every sport. Do you know TACTICS for using these strategies? I'm asking if you have a real PLAN with specific TACTICS to unwind. Just plopping down on the sofa for a few hours each night IS DEFINITELY NOT a plan or a tactic. Taking a hot bath or sauna two times a week is. Tactics for this soak might include mood music and candles or maybe even a scented candle if you dare to be so girly. By the way, lifting your personal best and bettering yourself is in no way girly to me. Unless you happen to be a girl.

This is where your knowledge of yourself and your creativity come into play. EVERYBODY will be squatting as part of their strategy. But not everybody will have included listening to positive tapes or podcasts three times a week (or better still, every day) as part of their strategy. There lies great opportunity in creating a winning strategy to exercise personal style and expression and creativity. I may love strategy even more than tactics. In fact, I admit it, I do!

But hold the phone, there is plenty of room for creativity in tactics as well. How you go about implementing your strategy is just as important. The WAY you PREFORM the exercises in your workout strategy matter greatly. Technique comes instantly to mind. Your squat technique (or lack thereof) is a tactic that is TOTALLY under your control.

"You will play like you practice," someone said to me. If you squat high in training, you should not expect to pass lifts in competition. You can give me any and every excuse in your book for doing so, but in the end, you will find yourself on the platform unprepared. That will be a tough day.

Another tactic in your daily squat training could be to wrap your knees a certain way. Or to elevate your feet between lifts for circulation purposes. Or to ice down after or to employ pause squats or box squats or chains or bands or explosive training. Your imagination is the limit of your tactics. Not all tactics are equal, mind you. But that is for you to hash out. The point here is that you should think clearly about your strategy and your tactics.

You "should" know what they are if someone asked you. Well, I'm asking you. If you can't put them to paper, they may be far less solidified than you had thought. Being creative does not mean being indecisive or moving pell-mell from one tactic to another. Or worse still, from strategy to strategy. That is NOT creativity, it is a lack of commitment. It is not a strategy to say you are using "all strategies." It is fine to change strategy and use multiple strategies at a time even. But bouncing around between them is a dead giveaway that you don't have a defined strategy.

The "instinctive method" of training is not a thing. It is a ruse to hide the lack of a strategy. Oh, make no mistake, I value personal instincts very highly. Any and all of my athletes will attest to that. But instincts are used as tactics, not as a strategy. They may be interviewed when constructing a strategy, but they do not constitute one. Let me be clear, changing endlessly and purposelessly from strategy to strategy IS NOT A STRATEGY. Periodization is. Noncommittal caprice isn't.

Having said that, when a strategy is not working, it is folly to go down with the ship. Holding to a losing strategy on principle is crazy. In fact, the SOONER one can realize and ADMIT the error, the sooner the vessel can be righted and the greater chances for a positive outcome.

Let me say that again another way: The quicker you admit you are wrong, the more likely you are to do well. The longer it takes you to recognize and own up to a mistake, the more likely you are to fail. Therefore, one STRATEGY that had served many, including myself, very well is this: to be constantly on the lookout for errors and to be willing to ADAPT or CHANGE COURSE. The sooner, the better. You can have that one. You're welcome! Like in anything, having an open mind and expressing creativity will lead to more successful strategies and tactics.

To summarize, tactics and strategies are different. A strategy is a plan and a tactic is an action that applies that plan. They cannot exist without an overarching goal. A GOAL needs a STRATEGY to achieve it and that is accomplished by using TACTICS.

You choose your own goals in life. But if you have any hope to achieve them other than praying, wishing, or stumbling over them by luck (not strategies, by the way), you must think about HOW you are going to get there. You need a plan. You need a STRATEGY. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and your goal can be achieved in a variety of ways. But in most cases, what you want and where you would like to go are well-known, and many, many people have done it and gone there. There is a path.

For much of your journey, you can use some well-tested strategies. At some point, you may need to make up your own. Or you simply may wish to get there by another route. You will need to CREATE your own strategy in this instance. This is highly rewarding and fun. The spice of life, perhaps.

Do not be afraid to try your own approach to the summit. Do not listen to people who demand that you do things their way or worse yet, " the right way." Bah! There is no right way! There are ways to get there or not. There are long ways and short ways. There are HARD ways and easy ways. But there are no right ways and wrong ways. Give that nonsense up.

Go YOUR WAY. Create your own strategy. Find a NEW WAY. It may take you a long time, and cost you a fortune, but that is of no import. You will be where you want to be and you will have a better story to tell. This, by the way, is THE STORY OF YOUR LIFE. If you get everywhere the quick, easy, and shortest way, you will have a boring life story. If you believe it is about "getting there," then you should get there quick.

But if you believe me and dozens of ancient thinkers way wiser than me, that it is the journey that counts and not the destination, you should take the path that is most interesting TO YOU.

What I am saying to you now is that YOU SHOULD ENJOY THE TACTICS! Enjoy the journey. Enjoy your life. Hmm. Then again, I could be wrong. But I believe that is CHECK. Now what?

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