Dean Smith, the hall-of-fame University of North Carolina basketball coach, was a master at preparing his players for opponents. I once heard a story that described a time when Coach Smith had to get his Tarheels ready for an opposing team that had significant height at numerous positions around the court. Rather than having a normal practice, he gathered brooms and mops from the janitorial closet and distributed them to defenders as arm extenders to block shots. If Coach Smith’s players could shoot over brooms, then they could certainly shoot over their upcoming vertically-enhanced opponents.
Like many of the best coaches, Dean Smith knew that effective preparation often meant stacking the deck against oneself in practice. This mantra also holds true for trial preparation. It is easy to assume that a motion will be won to exclude damaging testimony or evidence, but what if the judge decides in favor of your opponent? What if opposing counsel is more capable than first anticipated or an expert witness handles his or her deposition swimmingly?
In my opinion, the best planning must assume that everything will go very well for one’s opponent. In witness prep, this means helping those who will testify by practicing difficult cross-examination questions with great intensity. In mock trials and focus groups, err in favor of the opponent when it comes to planning case presentations. In mediation and negotiations, have a strategy that realizes the other side (rightly or wrongly) may be even more confident in their case than you are in yours.
Ben Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” While he was actually talking about house fires, the idiom has lasted for centuries for a reason. There is an exponential return on carefully considered preparation that imagines and practices a variety of potential negative outcomes. By imagining your opponents with brooms in their hands, you will be sure to arrive at the game with a perfect fade-away jump shot.
Blogger: Matt McCusker