Basketball Coaches Preach Divide and Conquer

Divide and conquer your way to financial independence


Most people can accomplish the tiny financial goals in life like going to the grocery store or paying the monthly bills.  Even the slightly larger goals are generally doable like buying a new TV or finding a new job.  But, what about the bigger goals like buying a house or saving for a car?

It’s difficult to sustain the drive needed to accomplish big goals.  Things like paying off a mortgage or saving for retirement can seem daunting, even dismissed by some as impossible.  But, if the big goals in your life are divided into smaller micro-goals, the odds of conquering them go up.

Basketball coaches as a group have mastered the art of divide and conquer.  I was watching the Duke vs San Diego State basketball game yesterday and something one of the color commentators said stuck with me.  Grant Hill mentioned that Mike Krzyzewski, the coach for Duke, takes the big goal of winning the entire NCAA Tournament and breaks it into smaller chunks.  Instead of looking ahead at who they might play if they make it to the final four, he keeps his players focused on no more than two games at a time.

If you’re not familiar with how the March Madness basketball tournament works, here’s the simple explanation:  In order to win the tournament, a team must win six games in a row over a span of three weeks.  Lose once and you’re out.  In order to be the team left standing at the end, Coach Krzyzewski has to trick the minds of his players into thinking they only have to win the next two games.  If they start thinking five or six games ahead, the goal becomes bigger, less tangible, and possibly unattainable.

Besides dividing the tournament up into bite-sized chewable nuggets, each basketball game can also be sliced into smaller slivers.  You might hear a coach emphasize to his players the importance of winning each half or even each ten minute segment of the game.  Don’t worry about the end of the game.  Just try to make the next basket, grab the next rebound, or block your opponent’s next shot.  The concept is simple.  If you win each chunk, you’ll win the game.

For most of my life I was terrible at long-term thinking.  I just floated along, limiting my attention to the next day, week, month, or maybe year.  However, as I’ve grown, I’ve started paying more attention to the big goals that lay further out on the horizon – saving for big purchases, paying off the mortgage, investing for the long-term.  But, instead of letting myself get intimidated by the size and scope of these goals, I’ve adopted the divide and conquer strategy used by basketball coaches like Mike Krzyzewski.  I fool my brain into thinking I’m only accomplishing micro-goals:

  • Put away 15% of my income in retirement accounts this year – win
  • Pay off five percent of my mortgage over the next six months – win
  • Save $300 for a new car this month – win

With each of these small victories, I secretly get closer to winning the big prize – financial independence.

Have you tried the divide and conquer strategy with your big goals?


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