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Football and Markets by Tyler McClellan
It has been quite a long month of football as Yale begins our quest for an Ivy League Championship against many of your valued Alma Maters: I thought I would present you all with what I term a "philosophy" of the game.
Perhaps I could begin with making a rather obtuse comparison. I have written before on this list about the cultural realities of the western world since Classical Greece and how this culture has been manifest in the western way of making war, a unique and highly unnatural style of warfare. That is the West has always been interested in shock confrontation, a decisive event that yields rapid and often unusually deadly results. The reasons for this military structure are myriad and not the focus of this post, only to say that the Western way of making war is highly unnatural as it forces the highest casualties in the most psychologically uncomforting way.
Football is in many ways a similarly unusual game as it forces repetitive, discomforting contact. It is in this way the ultimate "shock" game. The body must be taught to overcome the mind's natural tendency to contort the body in ways that most shield it from danger. From this reality emerges the reductionist tendency in football coaching, the necessity of divorcing the body's actions from the minds general governing principles. As players we are literally retaught the game step by step in the ultimate aim of recoding the interaction between brain and muscle: overcoming the tendency described above. So what at first glance appears to be the simplest element of the game is in fact the most difficult. To consciously unlearn the natural tendency of our brain to steer us away from harm, and rather to force the body into pain play after play is a step that many can not make. This ability to force the body into deliberate and repetitive movements against the governance of our minds is what I term the "static essence" of the game.
Yet, as in so many fluid and dynamic processes, mastering the "static essence" of the game does not insure success. It is merely the foundation upon which nothing can be built, but which standing alone is not particularly impressive. Complexity must be reintroduced to the system as their is a dynamic and conscious opponent whose goal is to defeat the very process we seek to, and if we are successful do in fact impose. Thus, we are forced to "scheme" against our opponent in the same way he is "scheming" against us. At my position on the offensive line this means employing a diversity of structural advantages, i.e. "knowing the snap count" and "controlling our splits". In addition to structural advantages we strive to create tactical advantages, opportunities for a series of movements to surprise or overwhelm our opponents from a combination of fundamental movements. And finally we try to gain a systematic advantage, either through superior physical conditioning, strength, or size.
I have in the above paragraphs tried to briefly illustrate a philosophy of football at a high level, notably concentrating on the foundational, reductionist "static essence" of the game without which success in unachievable. I also tried to address the ways in which the dynamically competitive nature of the game forces layers and layers of complexity upon our simplified foundation, and how someone might think about how to use different tools at his disposal to force a situation in which he has the strategic advantage. If there are other football players on this list perhaps they can comment at their own interest, and further there is a bountiful harvest to be taken in by analyzing the difference between set piece and continuous games, the similarities and differences between the theory of defense and the theory of offense, the ways in which the rules of any game yield recurring and predictable results: notably how rules tend to focus and concentrate the number of successful strategies one sees employed in any given game, and perhaps last in honor of Martin Shubik, visualizing the ways in which individual or widespread rule changes have to alter the actions and patterns of game participants. As he says "One man's parameters are another man's variables"