Your Brain on Fitness Part 3: Overcoming Goliath: How Underdogs Prevail
12 Jun

Your Brain on Fitness Part 3: Overcoming Goliath: How Underdogs Prevail

Overcoming Goliath: How Underdogs Prevail

In 2009, Malcolm Gladwell published an article in the New Yorker called "How David Beats Goliath." This article would later shape Gladwell's novel, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the art of battling giants. The article captures the story of a youth girls basketball team, made up mostly of 12 year olds; complete underdogs with far less talent than their  opponents, who were able to overcome insurmountable odds and take down juggernaut teams in the National Junior Basketball League.  Their coach, a computer programmer with little to no basketball experience who came to the US at 17 years old with $50 in his pocket, got these girls to effectively achieve such incredible feats by adhering to 2 principles. The first, never raising his voice, and the second and most vital to the story, was going against the conventional style of play and playing a full court press every game, all game long. He couldn't quite understand the concept of a game where one team, would let its opponent advance 3/4 of the way to their scoring objective without challenging them.  Gladwell questions throughout the course of history, citing the biblical story of David vs. Goliath," How it has been possible that given all of the insanely favorable circumstances, "David's" of the world still beat the "Goliath's" more than 1/3 of the time?

The short answer is that when underdogs choose not to play by Goliath's rules, they win, even when everything we know about power and rules says they shouldn't. By taking the game to them, the way the underdog likes to play, the underdog is able to create strength where there is weakness, and challenge the fortitude of the so called, "power" held by the stronger or favored force. 

Turn your attention to competitive fitness. We see it every year, athletes performing feats that are seemingly impossible, moving weights the odds would rule against, and showing how simply having guts, and some grit can prevail the mice over the men.  As an athlete, a great deal of mental strength, moxy, and desire come into play in these situations. It starts with fear. Fear is just a form of stress, created from within, that speaks loudly, and often in favor of the "odds." I like to think fear begins in the mind. Fear lives in the same neighborhood as predictions, math, statistics, odds, and the judgmental word "should." But a true underdog knows that he or she "should" not even be on the floor competing against the so-called "Giants" in the first place--and when David acknowledges this fear, and chooses to stand, fight, and act in the face of uncertainty and lesser odds long enough--and when he is able to change the way that Goliath plays his game, Greatness can emerge. 

This type of athlete fuels their performance from the HEART. This is where it gets really good. David knew all along that he was an underdog, this made David work harder, spend more time on weaknesses, building the engine piece by piece, paying attention to detail, cancelling social functions, giving full commitment, eating right (all of the time), sleeping, hydrating, recovering, all the way in, knowing failure is almost a certainty, completely vulnerable, no missed workouts, no days off, preparing for his ONE chance, and knowing all along the "odds" were slim. But David never paid much mind to odds anyway.

This is what it takes. Thats what grit, guts, and heart look like. This takes a very unique athlete, and an even more unique person. Someone who understands that the journey will always mean more than the destination. So, go ahead Goliath, keep kicking ass and taking names--there is a David out there somewhere who is outworking you as we speak. And the best part of it all, David knows that win or lose; he gave every part of himself to the cause, and took the game to you, his way. Because of this, in many ways, David never really was the underdog at all. And Goliath, with all his might, never really had a chance. When you change your frame of reference this way, it makes sense why and how underdogs continue to write some of the greatest upset stories of our time year after year. It makes them a little more scary huh? 

So, are you a David, or a Goliath?

Go Forth, 

Cody Loeffler, Owner OPEX Upper Main Line


For more on Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath article from the New Yorker, click here:

How David Beats Goliath

< Back to Blog