On The Wrong Foot, from Jim Sogi

November 10, 2006 |

When you start out in a game, a fight, a competition or a trade and right off the bat make a mistake or two, it puts you “on the wrong foot”. It’s a stumble coming out of the gate. You are in bad frame of mind because of making errors. You are fighting to catch up. These two factors set you off balance, not on the right foot, not leaning forward into the trade, off balance slightly, unable to attack strongly at the prime opportune time to attack when the opponent is weak and also off balance. These problems are compounded by distance and time. In longer term events this balance issue is critical in maintaining the correct mental attitude. Then at the end of the trade, you are so glad to be past the trouble caused by the original errors, you end badly as well. Champs don’t make mistakes right off the bat, or if they do, can overcome them and put them behind, make the extra effort and come from behind. That’s what makes them champs. How do you fight back, when you are weak, and behind?

In everyday endeavors, a regular discipline can help avoid the occasional errors. Errors are going to be part of every human endeavor, so it is important to be able to work with the situation and come out productively in the end, especially in areas that require judgment calls. Perfection is not possible. Admission of the error is important. Denial can cause further, irreparable damage.

Peter Earle responds:

With respect to preparation, and since you mention fighting — an apt field, indeed, for cultivating trading metaphors — I am reminded of an old boxing truism revolving around coming in dry: part of the informal intelligence casually gathered by cornermen (and sometimes fighters themselves) on the way to the ring and while waiting for a fight to start is whether the man across the ring is perspiring or not. This can sometimes give a clue as to how seriously he is taking the match/his opponent, how adequately he has warmed up, and even his level of anxiety.

If one’s opponent appears to be dry, sometimes — depending upon how he is known to perform under pressure — the game plan can suddenly shift; not, as may have been planned, to engage in a multi-round chess game, applying increasing pressure, but instead to come in with guns blazing at the open.

Though examples are numerous, I’m reminded of the mid-1990s undercard fight between John Ruiz, who would eventually become WBA heavyweight champ, and David Tua. Tua’s corner, noting Ruiz’s stiffness and lack of perspiration, urged Tua to jump on Ruiz right at the open… with resounding success.

David Lamb replies:

Frederick the Great started off on the wrong foot, but he never thought so. He just retreated for a few weeks, came back after doing some readjustment at home in Berlin, and accomplished what he first set out to do.

During his first campaign (at the ripe old age of 29) he led (very literally) a part of a two-columned Prussian army toward Neisse, the strongest Austrian fortress in Silesia. I now quote from the book on Frederick the Great I am reading (written by David Fraser):

“Both wings of the Prussian army ultimately converged on Neisse, where they found an Austrian garrison prepared to resist. There could be no question of exposing the troops to methodical siege operations in the conditions of winter and after trying, without success, intimidation by a ferocious ten-day bombardment, Frederick decided to leave Neisse… to return to Berlin, which he reached on 26 January. He had lost only twenty men in all.”

While back in Berlin he acted as if all was going as planned. In other words, he seemed not to worry too much about momentary setbacks. He acted as if they were the undesirable fatty parts of a great T-bone steak: He wouldn’t eat it, but regularly expected it upon ordering a steak. He even wrote all the neighboring Kings and Emperors that everything was going great and they could back him up or not. He acted alone, acted first, and never hesitated. But he never gave up once all his homework was done and all the data was aligned his way.

Furthermore, perhaps Frederick never felt he was fighting back, or on the wrong foot, or playing catch up. Perhaps the feeling of vulnerability and weakness and initial loss is what places the competitor at a disadvantage, not necessarily his actual numeric disadvantage.

Stefan Jovanovich responds:

Christopher Duffy, an exceptional scholar, wrote a fine book on Frederick the Great. I have not yet read Duffy’s new book on the Somme, but the people I trust think it is the most important book on WW I in decades.


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