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Random House Dictionary
gamesmanship - 1. the use of methods, esp. in a sports contest, that are dubious or seemingly improper but not strictly illegal. 2. the technique or practice of manipulating people or events so as to gain an advantage or outwit one's opponents or competitors.
shark - 1. (v) to obtain by trickery. 2. (n) a person regarded as ruthless.
In 1947, Stephen Potter published a treatise named, The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship. This was a humorous sports book that identified some of the more light-hearted ways to win (while helping others lose) through the use of psychological tricks, traps, and sharks. The techniques that he pleasantly documented were only the mildest varieties of the many tactics of winning by changing the way an opponent thinks.
How does this apply to you in your sporting adventures? Basically, anytime your attention span is split between two things - your game and anything else - you are being sharked. It doesn't matter that the diversion is initiated by someone else or generated from within yourself. Whether you like it or not, this kind of gamesmanship is as much a part of competition as the rules and tools of sports.
Some psychological tactics are effective in team sports and others in individual competitions. This book is written for sports in general, but when an example is needed, table billiards is the sport used.
This book provides educational opportunities. You learn what mind games are and how to recognize them. You also learn what you can do to respond or counter the effort. The book could never be complete enough to cover every possible ploy, but will help you recognize when someone is playing with your head as a player or when you see it on the playing field.
Using this book to provide basic orientation, other writers and educators can now identify and publish information about sports-specific sharks. That knowledge can be disseminated in the various magazines, newsletters, and web sites used by the general public and sporting officials. New game rulings can be made to penalize the more damaging tricks as unsportsmanlike behavior.
The concept of bending an opponent's mind ("sharking") has been around a long time. These have been used in nature since the beginnings of the food chain. It is so pervasive in the world that Sun Tsu incorporated it in his "The Art of War", and that was 2,500 years ago. Do you think that there were no psychological sharking tricks and traps going on at the first Olympics? These were the guys who came up with the Trojan Horse - an ultimate shark if ever there was one.
Sharking can be so subtle that you can question whether someone is affecting your way of thinking. If you spend too much time debating about it, you can assume that someone saying "hello" is a shark attempt (and it might be). Paranoia is one of the health risks of seriously studying competitive psychology.
There are opponents who use subterfuges that are crass, low-class, and obvious to the extreme. Many players think that what distracts them must also distract you. If they've been hit with a sledge hammer attack and it distracted them from their game, they in turn blindly believe that to be the "gold standard" of psychological attacks.
On the other hand, some players see the mastery of these efforts merely as a standard competitive skill. They select and apply each maneuver as part of their overall strategic program, carefully tailored to their competition. Each attempt to confuse an opponent is chosen after careful analysis and then applied with precision.
To them, this is not cheating, but the use of a tool applied with the same finesse and style as any defensive or offensive move. They have a very large library of choices and options that can be adapted to their competitor's personality and playing style. Compared to the gross approach, they prefer the gentle tap of a carefully placed psychological chisel.
Everyone has a set of these tricks they have adopted and adapted over their lifetime. Some are intentional, many are unintentional. Pointing them out is usually answered with shock at being accused and vehement denial. After much explanation, they are appalled to realize that they were bending the concept of sportsmanship.
However fiercely you may cling to the high ideals of upstanding sportsmanship, the reality of the world is that gamesmanship and sharking is everywhere. It exists in nature, relationships, work, and business - in every aspect of life.
Consider these examples. In the past, a girlfriend, with a simple request asked with a smile and wistful, appealing little-girl look got you to watch the Wagnerian opera, Das Rheingold. You were sharked. Your sister's kid throws a temper tantrum when you say "No" - you pretty much always give in. Sharked by a kid - tsk, tsk. Your Mom says, "People are starving in Africa." You reluctantly consume everything on your plate (even the boiled cabbage). Sharked! The common element in all of these examples is that your intention was to do one thing, and you did something else, even against your intention and desire.
You can best respond to sharking situations with intelligent actions instead of emotional reactions. With careful study, imaginative thinking, and a little practice, you can recognize and handle almost any psychological tactical attempt for the rest of your life.
Skillful and knowledgeable play or a lucky roll is NOT sharking. It is bad sportsmanship and poor manners to accuse anyone of sharking when they are simply better players.
Note: No scientific study has ever been done to determine just how common sharking is, along with the average variety of sharks played across the population of players, teams, and coaching staffs in each of the various sports. It might be worth a Ph.D. to some enterprising college kid.