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Football according to Sun Tzu: The Art of War may be just Chinese to you, but it can win football games. (Football).

SUN TZU was a Chinese philosopher and general who wrote the earliest known treatises on war and military science. He wrote a systematic guide for military strategy and tactics around 510 B.C. and his teachings have been studied and applied for thousands of years.

Napoleon introduced the western world to Sun Tzu's work and used many of his precepts to conquer most of Europe. Most recently his teachings were obligatory reading in the Soviet political military hierarchy.

Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book of strategic and tactical doctrine had its genesis in the Art of War, which has become fashionably popular today.

The business world has applied its philosophies to sales, marketing, and management, and Sun Tzu and his books are mentioned in many current movies and studied in business schools and military academies.

Football is the sport that most closely parallels warfare. Many of the terms we use in football come directly from military nomenclature, such as blitz, line to gain, bomb, trench, and encroachment.

Many great coaches, such as Woody Hayes, Bobby Knight, and General Neyland, have applied military theory to their particular sport, and I believe it would be interesting to relate Sun Tzu's teachings to the game of football.

"If the enemy is in superior strength, evade him."

Whenever your opponent is superior offensively, it would be prudent to avoid taking him on man-to-man.

Defensively, a coach should slant his front and avoid one-on-one confrontations.

Another good tactic would be the use of multiple fronts to avoid having the offense zero in on your personnel. If your opponent's defense should be superior to your offense, it might be wise to run an option-oriented attack that would allow you to read certain defenders and leave them unblocked and ineffective.

"When near your enemy, make him believe you are far away; when far away, make him believe you are near."

This concept pertains to disguisement. Don't allow your opponent to know what your intentions are. Keep him off-balance.

For example, when you are near (pressure stunt type defense), make the QB think you are playing soft (far away). Conversely, when you are far away (soft), make him think you are coming with pressure (near).

"Cleverness has never been associated with long delays."

Offensively and defensively, this means strike the opponent early and often. Finish the job as quickly as possible. Defensively, attack the QB early and cause him to become frustrated and lose confidence in his blockers.

"The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat and then wanted for an opportunity of defeating the enemy" and "to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself."

The former states that we must be fundamentally sound before we can scheme against the opponent. Blocking and tackling techniques must be perfected. We must be fundamentally superior to our opponent by making no mistakes, having no penalties, and not turning the ball over. A team that has a solid defense and a good kicking game is hard to beat.

The latter states that when the opponent makes mistakes such as turnovers and penalties, we must take advantage of them.

"He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout its ranks."

One of the most common problems facing coaches is the mental and physical status of backups. The emotional side of the second team affects the whole team. A successful coach makes his backups an integral part of the team. He makes them feel wanted.

Common strategies include playing a lot of people and giving incentives and rewards to service personnel. Bear Bryant was famous for playing a lot of people. He would often trot out two or three complete offenses.

"The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals."

Coaches must be careful not to focus or depend too much on one player. The best team is not always the team with the best players. A smart coach will devise a game plan that will make effective use out of each player's capabilities. He won't demand perfection from the untalented.

Field position, strategy, tactics, scouting, game planning, interpersonal relationships, and more are to be found within the pages of The Art of War.
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Author:Ratledge, Kenny
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2003
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