Asymmetry and barbell strategy

In this blog post we are going to talk about the asymmetry theories of the mathematician, trader and philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb and how they can be applied to padel.

Asymmetries are situations in which you have more to win than to lose or vice versa. If you have more potential gains than losses, we talk about a positive asymmetry, if it is the opposite, it is a negative asymmetry. Finally, if both gains and losses are equal, we would be talking about symmetry.

Embracing this mental model can make you be able to build up your own positive asymmetries. Or, at least, reduce the negatives.

How this applies to padel

When playing padel we are involved in a constant flow of decision making. Some decisions can have positive asymmetries and others negative asymmetries. If we analyze any amateur padel match, there is a clear trend, the number of unforced mistakes are larger than winners. Here we can talk about negative asymmetry because they are taking decisions that are too risky for their level, losing more (unforced mistakes) than gaining (winners), which probably translates into losing the match.

Contrary, when we assess a professional match, the decision making is very good as players select carefully every shot, assessing the potential risk/gains of each of them. As a result, if we check the statistics of any pro match, usually, we can see that the number of winners surpasses the number of unforced mistakes. So, overall we say that their decision making has a positive asymmetry. 

How can I build a positive asymmetry: the barbell strategy

Imagine a gym barbell with many weights on the left side and very little weight on the right side. When we are building our game plan, we can create two opposite extremes –that represent the two sides of the barbell. One extreme will be the one with safest shots, so shots that feel very secure. On the other side, the most risky shots. 

Having this strategy, we can make sure that 80% of our shots will be secure and this will generate a consistent game with few unforced mistakes. On the other hand, if we risk 20% of the shots, especially in situations that make sense, for example 40-0, we can have huge benefits/gains. Many players put most of the weight around the middle of the barbell, so they have around 50% of putting the ball in and 50% of making a mistake.

Practical examples to use the barbell strategy

For instance, from the back part we can play to the middle with enough margin 80% of the times. In the remaining 20% of occasions, you risk if the decision can bring you lots of benefits, for example in a 40-0 and set point…we can try an amazing chiquita and counterattack or a passing shot from a bajada.

If we move to the net, the same applies, if in 80% of my volleys the ball bounces around the service line, we can make sure that our game will be consistent. On rare occasions, we can go for a very risky volley, for example, very deep to the corners. However, if I decide to play every volley out of my control zone, in the long run I will have much more chances of losing the point than winning it. I will be creating a negative asymmetry for my teammate and me. More potential losses than gains. 

This can be applied as a coach too and we will write one post for coaches about this approach. Anyway, when you go to the court as a coach, think the same way: the big extreme of the barbell –the safety one– needs to have the biggest volume in training. Are your game and training methods consistent with your "Barbell strategy"? Think about it.