Science of Complexity in Sports.
Updated: Apr 25
The science of complex phenomena is often referred to as complexity science or the study of complex systems, one of which (in a significant part) is science applied in sports and exercise health. It aims to understand the principles that govern the behaviour of complex phenomena like human movement, to predict their behaviour, and to design interventions, programs or protocols that can effectively manage and/or control them.
It is a multidisciplinary field that seeks to understand the behaviour and properties of systems with many interacting components, known as agents, which can give rise to emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing behaviours. These systems are typically characterized by their unpredictability, adaptability, and interconnectedness.
Complex systems can be found across various domains, including biology, ecology, economics, social sciences, and even sports technology. Some examples include ecosystems, human brain, sports betting, team-club interactions and the internet.
Researchers in complexity science use tools from mathematics, computer science, physics, and other disciplines to model, simulate, and analyze the behaviour of particular phenomena dynamics.
Key concepts in complexity science include:
1. Emergence: The idea that the behaviour of a complex system can arise from the interaction of its components, resulting in patterns or properties that are not apparent in the individual components themselves.
2. Adaptation: The capacity of a complex system to change its behaviour or structure in response to changes in its environment or internal dynamics.
3. Self-organization: The ability of a complex system to spontaneously develop order or structure without external guidance or control.
4. Nonlinearity: The presence of feedback loops and interactions within a complex system that lead to unpredictable and disproportionate responses to changes in input.
5. Networks: The study of the structure and dynamics of interconnected nodes or agents within a complex system.
Complexity in Sports Science.
Visual – From cell to club scale interactions with the performer (athlete) and the surrounding environments. Based on Pol R et al. Training or Synergizing? Complex Systems Principles Change the Understanding of Sport Proces. Sports Medicine OPEN (2020).
Science applied in sports, exercise and fitness might not always be explicitly framed as studies of complex systems, yet it involves the investigation of complex–interconnected factors that influence human performance, health and well-being. These components include physiological, biomechanical, psychological, and nutritional factors, among others.
In sports and exercise science, researchers often examine the interactions between these components in order to understand how they collectively influence athletic performance, injury prevention, and overall health. The human body itself can be seen as a complex system, with numerous interconnected subsystems (i.e. musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and nervous systems) that work together to enable physical activity and adapt to various training stimuli.
Moreover, sports and exercise science also considers external factors, such as environmental conditions, coaching strategies, and social dynamics, which can further add to the complexity of the systems being studied. The multidisciplinary nature of human movement behaviour and sporting performance, which draws upon fields such as physiology, biomechanics, psychology, and nutrition, reflects the complexity of the systems being investigated.
Imagination of an athlete struggling with complexities of his body and the surrounding environment.
From the perspective of a practitioner who avoid overcomplexity like a plague and perceive it as a an obstacle in building coherent understanding (of complex phenomena) in the fields of sports coaching and clinical reasoning, I acknowledge the importance of synergizing factors that are non-linear in means of motor learning, contextually functional or unfunctional and based on performer–environment and team–club interactions, thus being much more holistic.
At the same time, I do not give up the linear, quantitative and useful reductionist approaches, while building the integrative model even more solid w/o extreme claims that the only (true) way is the way of constant uncertainty (too complex) or the way of cartesian reductionism (too simple).
Follow to the next article related to that topic: Simple vs Complex.
Pol R et al. Training or Synergizing? Complex Systems Principles Change the Understanding of Sport Proces. Sports Medicine OPEN (2020).
Robertson S et al. Bounded Rationality Revisited: Making Sense of Complexity in Applied Sport Science. SportRxiv (2019).
Salmon PM et al. Complexity in the Beautiful Game: Implications for Football Research and Practice. Science and Medicine in Football (2019).