Weak link and strong link sports

I recently listened to a good podcast on Freakonomics radio about the success of a not very well known soccer club in the UK. This came down to a bit of luck, but making good tactical decisions (which might not be sexy). What we first need to talk about is the difference between strong link and weak link sports:

A strong link sport is a sport where having one or two stars can carry a team to victory regardless of how bad the rest of the team is. A good example of this is basketball (which they talk about in their interview) in that one or two big stars can carry a team to a championship (think LeBron James). Notice this is for team sports, individual sports will obviously always fall to the individual for success or failure and so they need to invest heavily into themselves to be successful.

However, other sports are going to be considered weak link sports. This means that the biggest influence on your team’s success falls upon how good your worst player is. So if your worst player is better than the worst player on another team you are more likely to be successful. If your first player can’t get a pass to the next player it doesn’t matter how good your center or striker is since they won’t get the chance to take a shot. The example they discuss in the podcast is soccer (obviously), but I want to chat a bit about cheerleading on this one (I know more cheerleading), but I’ll make it more general by the end.


nationals 2016 night before
Our team, and we are only as strong as the weakest link.

In cheerleading for coed you have 16 people on the mat for competition and for all girl you have 20. For two and a half minutes you throw the most difficult skills that you have collectively as a team. What this means is that if you have a group that can double up stunts or double down, but all the other groups can only hit full ups their skills are not going to be on the mat and will be essentially wasted. So if you cheer, you have a huge incentive to increase the skills of your worst groups. For the groups that are stronger, it is still useful to increase your skills since if you can hit a double up, a full up will be easy (one spin is easier to do than double ups). For your weaker groups this is where it is important for your better athletes and groups to help them. If you make your weakest group stronger then you will have better skills on the mat and likely place higher.

The same can be said of tumbling in that if you increase those abilities of your weakest athletes now you are looking at having things like squad back tucks (standing back flips) which will help you score higher.

When it comes time to compete the most important person or group on the mat isn’t the one that hits everything perfectly, it is the one that drops a stunt or pyramid, misses a basket, or misses their tumbling.

You do want to help out your least skilled teammates get better since when you accomplish that you will in turn make your team stronger, but do keep in mind that sometimes you can coach or help too much (I’m guilty of this frequently). Just because you can coach and talk with your athlete or teammate doesn’t mean it is useful. This is because when you are trying the stunts and making mistakes you will be learning from them. So don’t over coach people even though it is easy to do.

Outside of this, think of this in the terms of who you are in whatever career you are doing. In that when it comes time for promotion or a new job role, which is more important; that you weaknesses aren’t as weak, or that your strengths are even stronger? Another way to think of this is does your position need a generalist or a specialist? Some jobs need one over the other. I work in academia, so if you want to work your way up to department chair or dean there comes a point where you need to be a better generalist. If you focus only on your teaching or research that won’t help you develop the skill sets you need for administration (maybe specializing more in service here would help progress this). In strength and conditioning in larger organizations you need specialists but in smaller organizations you might only have one or two strength coaches so you need to be a good generalist. Keep this in mind with your profession is your goal is vertical movement.

You can also apply this same logic to the groups you work with or manage. If you can bring up your average how much more effective will you be? Does helping others improve in turn take work off of you and allow you to be more productive? Since I run a very small lab at my institution the returns that I get from teaching my students how to do different lab procedures so I don’t have to run them myself allows me to do other work and gives them useful experience. However, some procedures are so involved that it isn’t worth teaching students that won’t be helping for only a semester, so there are cases where I just leave the average where it is.

So being a strong or weak link sport is a useful paradigm to work from with not only what you might compete in, but also how your profession might reward certain types of individuals to work their way further up the ladder. Thanks for taking a moment to read and if you have any questions please feel free to comment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s