Aug

18

VNThat Little Extra

There are so many market lessons that one can learn from the Olympics. To me the most important was that that little extra is the difference between success and failure. This was most apparent in the two big 0.01 second differential swimming races involving Phelps and Torres. In one case, Phelps said it was the difference of a "shaved finger" and in the second Torres said "I shouldn't have filed my nails." The former apparently referred to better streamlining and the latter to extra reach. Phelps had broken his wrist in 2007 and the extra kicking training he did helped him on the last reach, creating the winning margin. He stated that when he practices it's like a bank deposit. So often during the year, during a career, one decision, one wrong practice can mean the difference between success and failure. It underlines the importance of total concentration at all times, and constant practice.

The Blake/Gonzales match

Much has been written concerning the sportsmanship involved in the Blake semifinal. Right after the match in a press conference Blake remarked that his father would never have let him do it, and would have taken him out of the tournament. Jack Kramer has a similar remark in Ed Spec about his father's breaking his racket in a similar moment of poor sportsmanship and presumably Blake knew of this instance which is tennis lore, although I have found that among tennis players Kramer is derided for his treatment of Pancho. However, the key to me was that Blake must have been brooding about the incident from 5-5 in order to come up with such a lengthy exegesis right after the match. The brooding probably caused a lack of focus that led to loss. I had a similar revelation in my career when, at an early age, I used to complain about all the bad calls the refs made in squash. I subsequently realized that the complaining did me more harm than good. It not only took away my subsequent energy, but gave the infractor the advantage of seeing how much misery his misdeed caused. I stopped complaining during the last 10 years of playing and it was very helpful. Time and again I won when I would have lost if I had stuck up for my rights on the point. The same is always true with bad fills. By the time  I've complained about bad fills, or bad equipment, or bad treatment by a counterpart… By the time I've complained about it, and taking into consideration the extra costs involved and the missed subsequent opportunities, it's over. The legal system is such that on all matters involving less than 10 figures the costs are greater than the differences at issue. So that avenue never pays.
Putting it all together, one learns never to distract oneself worrying about the other side's problems and to concentrate on improving oneself and playing harder to compensate for the wrongdoing.

Denis Vako replies:

I can't define what "shaved finger" margin is, or unshaved for that matter, that is surely a joke, but in swimming hitting the wall makes the great difference for the result; as when one swims his body/hands/legs are doing cyclical movements and ability to break this cycle or accelerate it, to cut time on touching the wall, will win the race at the finish. In other words, when race is short, i.e. 50m or 100m, among equal sportsmen (as almost always the case), it is the touching of the wall which will determine the winner.

Different strategies there are, depending on the distance; when it is 50m race it is about how you jump into the water, how long you spend gliding under it and on the distance that left one must exhaust all his reserves before promptly touching the wall. While in a 200m or 400m race, one has more margin for error and strategy is more or less to "swim with the pack" and then to have an ability to explode the last 10-25% of the distance.

Stefan Jovanovitch writes:

It wasn't the finger; it was the half stroke before the final full one that gave Phelps the acceleration to touch out Cavic. Cavic's technique was the right one except he looked up a fraction before he touched. That lift of the neck and the added drag is probably what cost him the race. These are not my opinions but those of daughter, who — before her back injury — was good enough to be one of the field horses in Natalie Coughlin's 14-18 year old races at our County swim meet. Whether Cavic's looking up was a failure of character or just the inexperience that comes with being in a big race for the first time is also a question I leave to those who can read others' minds and souls. 

Reid Wientge adds:

Athletes "letting up" at the finish line seems to be endemic. It's in baseball and can be found almost every game. In the Olympics, I watched a German lose in one man paddling (the paddler kneels in the boat) because he slackened his pace just before the finish line. And I do mean just — he had the Gold in his canoe but his opponent, who had been challenging for more than half the race, pulled hard all the way to the line and won by a fraction of a bow.

Jordan Low extends:

We should trade by following our models, and constant meddling, i.e., looking up, while a trade is still in play, causes drag. Trading is like competitive swimming: there are many factors that you have to perfect, from the stroke to the turn, etc.

Nigel Davies replies:

I believe that Stefan is right in implying this goes much deeper. Trying to compensate for what seem to be the errors ('looking up' or 'not sticking to systems') tends to do little other than consume the attention after which a thousand other small errors appear.

So instead of vowing never to look up again, the guy should seek out the small vanity that distracted him with the thought of medals and glory. But this is somewhere most people won't go; it's easier on the ego to find some other excuse.

Jeff Watson writes:

Back in my old days at the Mid America Commodity Exchange, the weekend before my trading debut, I remember practicing hand signals in the mirror for hours and hours on end. I wanted to hard wire them into my brain so they would come out effortlessly, with 100% accuracy. Anything less than perfect might end up with my having bought 20,000 bushels of March wheat at 3/4, when I meant to sell 20,000 bushels of May at 1/2. Vic and Laurel understand the value of practice, and know exactly what the fruits of practice will bear. Even though it's the oldest cliche in the book, "Practice makes perfect" is still an integral path in the road to success.

Ian Brakspear corrects:

"Practice makes permanent" — each time you repeat something incorrectly you are making the mistake more ingrained in your mind. It is crucial to have the right program/instruction before you start.


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2 Comments so far

  1. steve leslie on August 18, 2008 12:50 pm

    I remember in the winter olympics that a snowboarder had the race won and he decided to leap up and grab his board for a Kodak moment. He crashed and his opponent passed by him to win the race.

    Who can forget Leon Lett trying to grab a football in the snow against the Miami Dolphins on Thanksgiving day causing an unnecessary turnover. Then in the Super Bowl he recovered a fumble raced toward the end zone and clowned for the camera while Don Beebe knocked it out of his outstretched hand preventing a score.

    Dan Gable one of the greatest wrestlers in the age old history of the sport, was quoted as saying that there were guys who may have been better wrestlers that he was but there was never anyone who was better conditioned. In fact, he was working out in a steam filled shower during the opening ceremony at the 1972 Olympics. He said that when he worked out he thought about those who were still getting sack time and he figured that edge would give him all he might need.

  2. George Parkanyi on August 18, 2008 6:43 pm

    Much of the commentary here is excellent on the context of a highly competitive endurance contest. And I can see how most trading can be identified with that. But in my mind, truly great things are achieved by collaborative human enterprise, particularly where such collaborations create a new and lasting benefit to many. The Apollo missions to the moon and the Grameen Bank are two examples. I believe there are other forms of excellence than just expending great personal effort and energy, no matter how talented that exertion is. Great things come from using the mind to leverage the energy and resources around us, and melding it into a lasting organized "system", whether that be a business, social, political, scientific or other type of system. For example, imagine what this community in DS could accomplish if it set its mind on some grand objective that our kids could be proud of, figured out a system for working together such that personalities can't get in the way of the objective, combined all its research and knowledge, and created and executed on a solid plan. That would be some organization. Just like there is another "David" sitting in a slab of marble out there somewhere, so is some grand human achievement sitting collectively in this community, and many other communities of interest. Will it ever come to pass? Not without an inspiration and a catalyst leading to a common purpose. But that potential achievement is still there, because the energy and resources are available. It could be kind of fun to say, get everyone here to panhandle, busk, or hustle what they can on the street, pool it all together, and then turn it into a billion dollars. Cheers, George

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