According to this article, you can only win in sports, or anywhere else, if you’re ready for chaos. Conveniently, that is the title of the article written by a leadership specialist. He cites a variety of examples from the Olympics and makes the statement that, particularly in a world where competitors are evenly matched “…physical fundamentals were key, but the athletes’ mental discipline and comfort with the pressures and real-life chaos of competition separated the medalists from their competitors.” I instantly thought of applying that theory to the volleyball competition and came up with a couple of examples.
Italy v Poland – Both Italy and Poland had a similar experience in the group stage where they lost, unexpectedly and badly, their last matches while playing for first place in the group. This unexpected, ‘chaotic’ situation led the teams in opposite directions. Although the teams were essentially even (in fact in the head to head match up Poland actually won quite easily) Italy rallied to beat win the bronze while Poland never recovered and went straight out in the quarter finals.
Russia v Brazil – At the beginning of the third set the Russian coach, as has been widely remarked upon, made significant personnel and positional changes thus imposing a kind of chaos on the game. Again the teams were essentially equal (Brazil won in the group stage) but once the dust had settled Russia were the team that had better dealt with the chaos of both the lineup changes and pressure moments of the third set and thus emerged victorious.
There are two situations that would seem to confirm the assertion of the author. He goes on to recommend “building up the capacity to adapt to the unexpected during practice and preparation”, citing the example of Michael Phelps’ coach who would constantly create small obstacles during training and lesser competitions to prepare Phelps for such situations should they occur in competition. Tiger Woods’ father was also noted for trying to distract him during practice to teach him about life. And I recall an old school story that the Soviet volleyball teams always travelled the longest, most interrupted route to any friendly tournament to prepare them for any unexpected delays and troubles when travelling to major events. Even at a micro level, the concept of a wash drill is to recreate, and subsequently solve, unusual game situations.
As he concludes his article, “In ideal, pristine situations where we can focus without distraction, winning with the technical fundamentals alone is pretty easy. But in the complex world where uncertainty is the only certainty, preparing with and developing a familiarity with chaos is where the real competitive advantage lies.”