Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

I ended up watching more of the Olympics than I ever intended; by sheer fate I flew out on the day of the opening ceremony and flew back on the closing day as the flame was handed to the next host city, Tokyo. My destination didn't offer much in the way of TV choice but as we were in the same time zone as Rio the ESPN sports network made for easy viewing with two channels dedicated to the Games, one anchored from the Caribbean and the other Canada.  I never quite worked out why that was so, but deprived of Clare Balding I soldiered on, soon becoming quite knowledgeable in the workings of the Trinidad and Tobago athletic community and coming to the view that the Canadians generally prefer the Winter Olympics.

Dave Brailsford
Actually it was refreshing to be spared the jingoistic home coverage but it must be said that both the ESPN channels were in awe of the Great British effort as we scaled the medals table with each successive day. They seemed to be positively gleeful as we pushed China into third spot. As Francis Urquhart in House of Cards would have said, "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment". Well, I do have readers in China ......

The really interesting discussions on ESPN asked the question as to why Team GB had been so successful. There was no side to this, just genuine inquiry. We were expected to do well in London 2012 but to improve in 2016? Well, that blew away all known metrics. Lottery funding is the most obvious reason but the more thoughtful commentators kept drawing the attention to cycling coach Dave Brailsford and his concept of "aggregation of marginal gains" that seeks for "the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do."

For Brailsford this meant examining every aspect of competitive cycling, finding that 1 percent in everything - the athlete, the lifestyle and the kit. They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training programme, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tyres. But Brailsford and his team didn't stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.

Which had me thinking: could we apply the same to fly fishing? Of course the immediately exciting part of this is that it provides the perfect excuse to buy new stuff - rods, reels, lines, flies, clothing - well, the Brailsford theory seems to suggest no boundaries. Good bye cheap and cheerful B&B, hello five star luxury. But then again, try explaining that credit card statement away to your loved ones using the 1 percent argument. Good luck. But, on the serious other hand, Brailsford does have a point and his theory does work for fly fishing. But how?

Flies are a good point in case. In the tackle trade the old adage is that flies are tied to catch fishermen not fish. I'm sure we have all been snared this way as the huge array in the shop assail the senses so that after a few sensible choices we revert to buying on the basis of flies we like the look of regardless of utility. In the world of Brailsford such indiscriminate behaviour would have no place. Flies would only be bought to match the hatch and each successive fishing trip would be dedicated to adding a small new fact to our entomological knowledge.

Kit? Well, I don't think you have to have the very best or most expensive rods, reels, lines etc. but you do have to keep abreast of the times. Even the quite backwater of fly fishing technology moves on apace. Buying a new rod every year will not help, but buying a new one every five years will. Clothing? Well, I am not suggesting a skin-tight body suit but do dress for the weather. The fish are wet already so they don't care about the rain but if you keep dry and warm you'll catch more fish than if sheltering in the fishing hut.

I think suggesting a fitness regime might be a step too far, but ask any fishing guide the morning greeting they dread most for the day ahead and it will be "we all got slaughtered last night", accompanied by groans and a rush for the coffee pot. A vow of abstinence is too much to ask of any red-blooded fly fisher but generally it is better to get p****d the night after rather than the night before.

I am not going to attempt to list every variable in a fly fishing day that can be incrementally improved; you are smart enough to work them out for youself. But the interesting correlation to marginal gains is marginal losses i.e. repeatedly doing the same thing badly.  How many times have you lost a fly in a tree only to lose the replacement in exactly the same tree? The Brailsford theory holds in reverse, though he notes the losses have a tendency to snowball - it is a lot easier to get worse than better.

The big but to all this is the 'aggregation' word. Marginal improvement does not come in a rush nor will it be immediately noticeable. It is like being on a diet where you vow to lose a stone at the rate of an ounce a day and keep to it - that eureka moment will be a while coming.  


Just a few random ones to stretch the brain ahead of a relaxing weekend:

1)     When were Bank Holidays enshrined in law?

2)   Where in the UK would you receive the most Bank Holidays each year?

3)      Who has caught the biggest salmon so far this year in Iceland?

4)      What was the unexpected catch by a German angler earlier this month? 

It's just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.  

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 

1)      1871  2) Northern Ireland and Isle of Man with 10 each. Scotland 9. England 8.  3) Eric Clapton at 28lbs  4) The intimate area of a nudist swimmer. Read article ..... 

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