Strategy (using tennis as an example)
The rules of tennis say you must hit the ball onto the court one more time than your opponent to win a point. They don’t say how you must go about doing it. This opens the door for a lot of strategy. You can try to win points by hitting from the baseline, coming to the net, hitting lobs, etc. You have many options when deciding where to hit the ball, how to hit the ball, and where to stand on the court. All these decisions make up your strategy. Strategy is important because the decisions you make can make it easier for you to win the point and harder for your opponent to win the point. That’s the purpose of strategy: maximize your chances of winning by making it easier for you or harder for your opponent.

To make it easier for yourself, you should play to your strengths and avoid using your weaknesses. If your forehand is way better than your backhand, run around your backhand and hit more forehands. To make it harder for your opponent, hit to their weaknesses and avoid their strengths. If they are good at the baseline, but bad at the net, bring them to the net often.

You chances of winning are maximized when you simultaneously make it easy for yourself and hard for your opponent. However, this is not always possible. Your strength of hitting forehands cross-court may go straight to their strength of hitting forehands cross-court. Also, hitting to your opponent's weakness may require you to hit your weaker down-the-line shot. So when your strengths are matched by your opponent’s strengths, you must decide which strategy is best. Should you keep hitting to their strength, hoping your strength wins out. Or do you risk hitting more difficult shots to exploit their weaknesses? Do the rewards outweigh the risks?

If you are confident that you are better than you opponent, it is strategically smart to play your normal game. There is no reason to take unnecessary risks and try different tactics. However, a common mistake is to use your normal/comfortable strategy when playing superior opponents. If you put your strengths up against theirs, you will lose 9 times out of 10. Generally, when you are an underdog, you need to use a riskier or unorthodox strategy. You must play either very aggressive or conservative. You may be more uncomfortable using these strategies, but they are needed to give you your best chance of winning.

Being a good strategist requires noticing patterns as well as the strengths and weaknesses of you and your opponent. You have to know what is happening during a match besides just the score. You have to know how points are being won and lost. After getting information, such as “I’m losing all of my net points”, you need to know how to apply this info to your strategic decisions (I should not go to the net anymore).

To improve your chances of winning, you should strategically prepare before a match. Use scouting reports to develop a game plan. Don’t just blindly go into a match not knowing what to do schematically. You should also get more comfortable making strategic adjustments during a match.

Strategy is often overlooked as one of the four components of sports. This is a shame, because as I’ve written before, playing intelligently (strategy) is one of the 5 ingredients of peak performance. Even if you give 100% physical effort and 100% concentration, and are relaxed and confident, you will still not play your best if you make stupid decisions in games as your efficiency will be low. If you want to gain an edge on your competition, study the game and become a strategic master so you can outsmart more talented opponents.