The LSAT Wisdom of Johan Cruyff

    LSAT Test Mentality | LSAT Prep

    Johan Cruyff, modern LSAT master.Ten days ago the world lost a sporting legend, Johan Cruyff. If you've never heard the name before, you could be forgiven for thinking that he might be an old ship captain, or maybe some forgotten inventor. The name sounds a bit grizzly and angular, and would certainly fit a big game hunter or gold miner. He wasn't though—he was a world famous soccer player from the Netherlands. So, how could he possibly have any wisdom that applies to the LSAT?

    Cruyff was both a player and a coach, but more importantly he was a visionary. As a player, he won the award for world's best player three times. He led the Netherlands to the finals of the 1974 World Cup, where he was, incidentally, named best player of the tournament. He was so good that there's even a famous football move named after him, The Cruyff Turn. As a manager, he was one of Barcelona's most successful overseers, and was instrumental in the founding of their powerful and celebrated youth training academy. As a soccer thinker, many commentators credit Cruyff as being the father of modern football, and he was a leading advocate for Total Football, a fluid, attacking style of play that has at times dominated the soccer world. 

    I'll cut short the history lesson, but what interests me most about Cruyff is that many of his soccer insights apply well to LSAT preparation. He was a well-known figure and quite quotable. And although he never specifically spoke about the LSAT (because why would he?), let's take a look at a few of his comments and see what we can learn:

    "Every disadvantage has its advantage."
    I've always loved this quote because it acknowledges that every player—and LSAT student—has weaknesses. The key is to understand how those weaknesses can help you. For example, are you a slow reader? Ok, that is a disadvantage in Reading Comprehension. But, sometimes slower readers are better at picking up details and understanding structure. If you are a slower reader, adjust your focus slightly so that reading speed isn't what you focus on, but rather the elements in the text and how they fit together become your focus. Cruyff was a huge advocate of fluidity in movement and response, and this quote fits perfectly with that philosophy regardless of whether we're talking about sports or test taking.
    "Speed is often confused with insight. When I start running before everybody else, I appear faster."
    Cruyff often commented that his brain was the most important asset he had as a soccer player, and that skills were overrated (easy enough to say for a player who clearly had world-class skills). This quote reveals how easy it was for observers to mistake athleticism for what was actually superior insight and vision. Cruyff is saying that if you can see the game at a higher level, then you can react earlier and perform in a superior fashion, even to those who might be athletically more gifted.
    On the LSAT, there is sometimes the belief that some students are just smarter than others, and this is what leads to the highest score. I've never believed that. I've seen many smart students initially get humbled by the LSAT, so it's not just about brainpower. It's more about how you prepare and what you learn about the test. In other words, it's about vision when taking the test. As I've said elsewhere, the LSAT is beatable, and one of PowerScore's goals is to help students learn how to master the test. How do we do that? By helping you "see" the exam better than you could on your own. That's why we spend so much time teaching you about how the test makers think and what will appear on the test.
    "Surviving the first round is never my aim. Ideally, I’d be in one group with Brazil, Argentina and Germany. Then I’d have lost two rivals after the first round. That’s how I think."
    Cruyff's reference here is to first round groups in the World Cup, where four teams are placed in a group and play a set of round-robin games. At the end, the two with the highest point totals move on, and the lowest two teams are eliminated from the tournament. Brazil, Argentina, and Germany are all world soccer powers (along with Cruyff's home country, the Netherlands). I love Cruyff's aggression and attitude here: he doesn't fear playing the best teams in the world, he relishes it because he sees it as an easy way to quickly kill off two main foes. That's confidence!
    On the LSAT, you often hear students say things such as, "I hope I don't get Logic Games first," or "I hope there's not many Assumption questions on this test." While I understand that mentality, imagine the huge boost you will get if you do get LG out of the gate, and then just crush it. It's the kind of confidence boost that can propel you to an awesome score. But, you have to have an aggressive mindset from the start of the test, and you have to believe in yourself. If you can reframe your perspective, what might have previously looked like a group of death scenario can quickly turn into a huge advantage.
    Side note: these days, it's extremely unlikely that Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Netherlands would be drawn into the same group due to the seeding process currently in use.
    If you can’t win, make sure you don’t lose.
    This one may seem a bit odd at first. In soccer context, he's referring to the fact if you can't outright impose your will on the game, then don't make any mistakes and cause yourself to lose—get the draw at least.
    In LSAT terms, I tend to think of this as relating to getting too engrossed in individual questions at the expense of your overall performance. For example, one of the cardinal rules of the LSAT is that you should never let any one question consume too much time or throw you off your game. If you solve an LR question but it takes 5 minutes, then you won the battle but you will lose the war. You have to be intelligent on a global level when you take this test, and sometimes that means not falling into a trap such as a really hard Logic Game (skip it and return later).
    "Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is."
    This last one probably makes sense in soccer terms (also known as "football" in most of the rest of the world). In LSAT terms, it might be more mysterious. For me, taking an LSAT is a very straightforward process: you sit down and for the next four hours or so it's you versus the test. Pretty simple! But, it's easy to get twisted around during that experience, to start thinking about what happens if you don't get a certain score, or what movie you plan on seeing later. You can even get wrapped up in overthinking the arguments you are reading or in trying to find the perfect diagram for a Logic Game rule. In other words, during the LSAT you have to remember to keep focused on the main goal, and to keep your analysis as clean and linear as possible. Don't get lost in unimportant elements!

    I could probably go on with Cruyff quotes for a while ("Before I make a mistake, I don’t make that mistake" and "There is only one ball, so you need to have it" come to mind) but I'll close it down here. Just keep in mind that one of the world's best athletes thought that his mind and vision were more important than any innate physical talent he had. Sometimes it's not your natural gifts but the ones you work on that make you as good as you can be.

    Questions or comments? Please post them below!


    Photo credit: "Nederlands: Johan Cruyff" courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license.