There is a distinct change in lacrosse played at the beginner level versus the college level. After back-to-back games watching my daughter (9) play and then University of Maryland (Go Terps! #1 Women’s Lacrosse in the country), it was easy to see that even with the same rules and equipment, players at the different levels not only had improved skills but fundamentally different strategies.
My daughter's team worked hard to get the ball to the stars, moving the team into a set formation passing the ball along the chain to score. There would be variations in the plays but the ball moved toward a few players until one of most productive shooters could score. At the elite college level, the game was about creating space, moving players out along the edge to draw out defensive responses and create gaps for action.
At this more advanced level, all players are a threat and the focus seemed to shift toward managing the field for the players, creating space that opened opportunities to score. The work focused on pulling a defense apart, thinning the density of the defense so that many players could flip the ball into net. The team focus was less about the players and more on creating spatial control and the field awareness needed to win at the highest levels of the sport. These dynamics are similar to soccer, the board game GO, and social movements.
Unfortunately, many of our supporters and reporters focus on the star players rather than the effort it creates to control the field. The goal is to dig into the ways we can foster winning social movements. Movements control the field.
Being labeled a “movement” is a reflection of evolutionary status. One person or organization does not qualify as a movement, yet there is no set size of a movement. Movements are messy, complex and organic. The movement label is shorthand, an inclusive term of many independent leaders and supporters, their support structures, all that they can tap into, as well as their capacity to disagree as often as they align on work.
Movements are a reflection of self-directed, adaptive, resilient, self-sacrificing, supported and persistent initiatives to work on complex problems. There are no movement structures, but instead a movement is a mass migration of people, organizations, businesses and communities unified in common story, driving to shift culture, policy, behavior and norms. Successful movements build and transform the landscape as they progress providing a base for further progress. A quick scan of the first few pages of google news for” movements” produces a snapshot of the current movements that come to mind, including the movement against fracking, the climate change movement, the tea party movement, Occupy, #blacklivesmatter, the anti-austerity movement, the dump-Trump movement, the maker-movement, the LGBTQ movement--the list goes on.
A key evolution point in a movement's trajectory is the transition away from any single point of failure, to be loosely structured and resilient enough to absorb setbacks. The agility and adaptive characteristics of movements are fueled not only by personal stakes, individualism, driven leadership, passion and local control, but also by unpredictable solidarity and a distributed organizing approach that resists centralization. The difference between an organization, coalition, centralized campaign and a genuine movement is the way each fuels smart local initiatives and the ways leaders align power.
Building a movement is actually more aptly perceived as unleashing a movement, creating new spaces that help the movement surge in wider, expansive and still supportive directions. As a movement gains organizing momentum, strategies shift to broadly unfold and push a wide set of actions that draw opposition thin rather than clustering and making defense easy. This distributed layout requires a shift in thinking and strategy.