Tony DeMeo

How David Beat Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a bestselling author who has written three bestsellers: The Tipping Point, Blink, and The Outliers. I recommend all three. However my favorite piece by Gladwell is an essay about how underdogs win. The essay appeared in the May 11th 2009 edition of The New Yorker magazine.

Gladwell discusses an undersized, under-talented girl’s basketball team of twelve year olds. The coach had to develop a strategy that could give his underdogs the best chance of winning. He thought about how David slew Goliath. He surprised him by attacking him, he used an unconventional weapon, and he followed up on his advantage.

He decided the David’s of the world have a chance if they don’t play by Goliath’s rules. So he decided on a full court press all game. His team had remarkable success.

Gladwell talks about T.E. Lawrence better known as Lawrence of Arabia using unconventional tactics to defeat the Turks during WWI. Raiding the Turks and using hit and run tactics overcame military superiority. Doing the unexpected gives the underdog a chance.

There are other examples in this essay about the David’s victories over the Goliaths. Every football coach has had to deal with a Goliath.

The Birth of the Triple Gun Offense

In the spring of 1999 while at Washburn University we had to come up with a strategy that was unique and would allow us to compete with the larger and more talented programs in our conference. We decided to run the triple option from the shotgun. After a tough start the team embraced the new offense and that fall we had the best season that Washburn had had since joining NCAA Division II. We set all the school’s offensive records and Triple Gun was a major part of our team’s success.

In 2005 we installed the Triple Gun at The University of Charleston and we had the biggest turn around in conference history finishing 8-3. In the 5 years we have been at UC, our record is 37 – 18. In 2009 we finished ranked 19th in the nation. We have also set all of UC’s offensive records.

The same principles that David used to kill Goliath, that Lawrence of Arabia used against the Ottoman Empire and that the coach of the girls basketball team used to win a championship are used in the Triple Gun. They are:

  1. Don’t play by Goliath’s rules. Change the game. Do something unique that is tough to prepare for.
  2. Think outside the box. If you do what everyone else does you have to be better than everyone else. But you can always be THE BEST at YOUR system.
  3. Do the unexpected. Be unpredictable. To do this you must have a diverse and flexible scheme. Your scheme must be able to adapt in an instant.
  4. Practice and play with relentless effort. Relentless effort trumps talent. David must work harder than Goliath. He must be better prepared.

The last factor of The Triple Gun is that you recruit players that don’t fit in Goliath’s offense. It’s a great scheme for “unwanted talent”. This is similar to the “Moneyball” principle used by Billy Beane in building the Oakland A’s on a small budget. In 2009 our QB was only 5’7” but led the nation in pass efficiency & scored 23 TDs. He has been 1st team all conference for 2 years. Our best running back was only 5’8” but averaged 10 yards a carry. Great players are often overlooked because they don’t fit Goliath’s template. This gives David a HUGE recruiting advantage because he doesn’t compete against Goliath in the recruiting wars. Players that fit in The Triple Gun don’t fit in standard offenses.

In conclusion I would recommend looking up Malcolm Gladwell’s essay, and would certainly recommend any of his other books. Also don’t be afraid to be different or to use your imagination, just think if the Wright brothers didn’t think man could fly – we would never have lost luggage.