Baseball Magazine

Baseball and the OODA Loop

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard

September 1st of last week was the anniversary of the start of World War II.  After the war officially ended, a young man by the name of John Boyd enlisted into the Army out of high school and later entered the Air Force after college.  Little did people know that Boyd would go on to revolutionize competitive strategy for the military, future businesses, and sports.

Boyd's OODA Loop

Boyd’s OODA Loop

Boyd was given the nickname “40 second Boyd” as a pilot and instructor because he bragged that if put in a position of disadvantage (another fighter jet behind him), he would be able to get behind the “enemy” plane within 40 seconds.  He always bet the pilots $40.  Legend has it that nobody was able to collect the $40.

His methods would later be referred to as the OODA Loop.  O.O.D.A. is an acronym for Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action.  The OODA Loop is a basic understanding of how human beings make decisions during a competition.  First they observe what’s going on.  Next they orient themselves as to their place in the event and tap into what they have been trained to do within that scenario.  Next they decide on a course of action.  Finally, they take the action and then repeat the process as the situations change in front of them.

It’s a simple process to understand how people react to situations but Boyd also felt it was key to gaining a competitive advantage.  He felt if you could “get inside” someone’s OODA Loop then you could disrupt this circular decision making process.  Basically, always throwing new things at the enemy before they are able to get to the end of their loop and Act.  Doing so keeps sending them back to the beginning of the loop to start again.

Here is a baseball example …

A runner is on first base.  When the pitcher starts his delivery, the runner on first takes off towards second base on a steal.  At the same time, the right handed batter squares to sacrifice bunt.  Because the batter was right handed, the second baseman is trained to cover on the steal.  But he is also trained to cover first base on a sacrifice bunt.  When both things are thrown at him at the same time, the second baseman may freeze and not know what to do.  If he covers second then nobody will be at first for the throw.  If he breaks towards first, nobody will be at second base.  In essence, the offense “got inside his OODA Loop” and prevented him from getting past Observe and Orient.  He cannot Decide because he is stuck on Orient.  His hesitation or inability to Decide and Act may result in both players being safe.

There are other examples of this too.  A pitcher who is able to totally baffle hitters by throwing exactly what batters DON’T expect him to throw.  Fastballs in off-speed counts, off-speed pitches in fastball counts, etc.

Baseball has been called ” a game of adjustments.” The team that can make the adjustments – move through their own OODA Loops – faster than the opposition have a tactical advantage which can allow an inferior team a chance to stay in a position of advantage.

In baseball, it may take longer than 40 seconds but if players/teams can understand the concept and intricacies of Boyd’s OODA Loop, they will have a better understanding of what it takes to win.

If the OODA Loop is of interest to you then do your own research.  There is far more information on the strategy than I presented here.

Tomorrow’s post: Tips and drills for getting the most out of your throwing arm

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