Why do people trade? For most, their primary motivation is to make money. Sure, there are secondary reasons however they all stem from the undeniable urge to make money.
Ironically, this would have to be the main reason why people fail. With most of our trading decisions, it is only natural that we focus on making money because this is the main reason we consider trading in the first place.
Whilst I concede the idea of making money is important, it is not as important as protecting the money that you have to trade with. I think Paul Tudor Jones says it best when he said, “Don’t focus on making money, focus on protecting what you have.”
Stephen Waugh is a former Australian cricketer and was the captain of the Australian Test Cricket Team from 1999 to 2004. He is credited with a quote that can be applied to trading. He said the best advice he was ever given about batting was to “Not get out!” That was it … in other words, how can you score runs if you have been dismissed. So whilst making runs is very important, there was something more important – protecting his wicket. If he protected his wicket, he was going to make runs.
So whilst most of us will admit to ourselves that our primary aim is to make money - yes, it is important, it is not as important as looking after the money you have to trade with.
No more money - no more trading! Simple ...
This is hard to do because when we start trading, all we can think about is all of the money we are going to make. Eventually reality sets in and we realise that trading successfully may be a little more difficult than we first realised.
How can we change our mindset and approach trading from a different angle to ensure we do everything we can to protect our capital. How can we become more defensive minded and conservative with regards to our capital? Let’s think of this from a sporting perspective.
Sport at the highest levels provides interesting parallels with trading. It captures all of human emotions and often the stakes can be high and the pressures enormous.
As an example, in basketball the object of the game is to outscore one's opponents by throwing the ball through the opponents' basket from above while preventing the opponents from doing so on their own. Notice the object is two-fold. In the American National Basketball Association (NBA), its dominating teams over the last 50 years have all been considered outstanding defensive teams. It was often this reason that was attributed to their great success.
The Boston Celtics from 1957 to 1969 won 11 championships in 13 seasons. They were led by one of the greatest defensive players ever in Bill Russell. In the early 1990s, the ‘Bad Boys’ from the Detroit Pistons won two championships and were well known for their intense and intimidating defense.
The dominating Chicago Bulls led by the peerless Michael Jordan throughout the 1990s won 6 championships from 6 attempts and in one year, they had 3 of their players voted onto the 5 man All-Defensive First Team – a notional team of 5 selected players from all 30 teams.
Even in more recent times perhaps to a lesser extent than the great teams just listed, the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons winning the championships from 2003 – 2005 were both considered the best defensive teams in the years they won.
Granted, all of the above teams were highly proficient at scoring however they all forged a reputation moreso for their ability at preventing the opposition from scoring against them. They adopted a defensive mindset and they all achieved outstanding success.
In recent times, two differing approaches to their golf game have provided two of the game’s best different fortunes. In the 2006 US Golf Open, Phil Mickelson was about to tee off on his last hole with a 1 shot lead. He needed to par the hole to win his first ever US Open in front of an adoring crowd or less preferable, bogey to at least remain alive in a playoff with Australia’s own Geoff Ogilvy who had already finished his round. As he considered his final hole, he reached into the bag and pulled out his driver (this club is considered the riskiest of clubs off the tee due to its potential lack of accuracy – players often hit their driver for increased distance, which is the payoff).
The commentators at this stage were almost speechless as he didn’t need to take the risk of hitting the driver and could have easily hit a safer club not as far up the fairway to ensure his par. His tee shot looked bad straight off the tee and headed well left and bounced off the roof of a marquee. His ball landed behind a tree and when he had hit his second shot, he was not much closer to the hole after striking another tree. A playoff at this stage was looking good. His resultant double bogey handed Geoff Ogilvy the US Open title on a platter and drew many shakes of the head from commentators and fans alike as to why he didn’t adopt a more conservative and defensive approach on his final hole.
In complete contrast, considered by many the best player ever, Tiger Woods adopted an unusually defensive posture throughout the 2006 British Open Championship. Knowing that the roughs along the fairways on the course were big trouble, he decided to sparingly use his driver to ensure he remained on the fairways at all times possible.
He stuck to his defensive plan so well, in 72 holes of competition, Woods only hit a driver off the tee once. This is unheard of. Woods hit all but one fairway on the final day, and recorded a phenomenal 85.7% mark for the week (the leaders on the US PGA Tour normally average around the 75% mark.) This feature of his game was commented on individually by his fellow competitors and greatly contributed to his successful defense of the title.