This entry is also the Chapter 5 of my blog Complex Basketball Coaching. The blog is here.
Historically, the dominant approach in coaching and coaching research has been the positivistic approach. Using that particular adjective in the term is a matter of choice. The same basic approach towards coaching is reflected by these overlapping adjectives:
Often coaches do not articulate or even realise the assumptions that underlie their coaching. Hence, not too many coaches will explicitly acknowledge that their coaching approach is positivistic.
Also, even if a coach’s general approach is to be considered positivistic, he may not subscribe to all positivistic claims. And the terms mentioned here have many definitions – i.e. not all forms of positivism are the same.
However, generally speaking it is justified to call the dominant approach in the coaching field positivistic. The argument here is that this is how most coaches in praxis coach most of the time. This claim grains credence from the following list. It connects underlying assumptions of a positivistic nature, general coaching principles, and basketball specific examples.
(Quote from here.)
The positivistic coaching approach has produced a lot of champions. So in a way, the problem is not that it doesn’t work. It does work – up to a point. But it doesn’t work optimally, or all the way through.
For example, the effectiveness of a team does correlate with the effectiveness of its players. In pick-up basketball, if you put the five best players on one team and the five worst players on the other one, the five best players’ team will win the game. And if you replace your center with a more effective one, you very possibly improve the team effectiveness.
So why does the positivistic coaching approach will eventually run short in basketball? Considering that basketball is a complex system, there are at least three explanations.
1) The Specificity of Learning Principle
- The specificity of learning is a most elementary, well-proven principle of sports training. What it means is that “improvement is observed only in the trained task, with little to no transfer of learning being observed even for very similar untrained tasks”.
- Previously we have defined basketball as “an invasion team sport where the interaction between the two teams is confined by the basketball rules”. Thus, according to the specificity of learning principle, the interaction between the two teams should the primary trained task in the sport.
- The positivistic coaching approach fails to comply with this conclusion. In the list above there are several points that imply that the emphasis of training may be put on other tasks than the primary one. The points in question are the ones 4-to-8.
2) Emergence of Interaction
- In complex systems, the output emerges from the interaction between the parts of the system. Because of this emergence, even if we know the the input, we can not know what the output will be. Hence, we can’t know what the input should be in order for us to get the optimal output.
- The same in basketball terms: We don’t know exactly what will happen in a game – or how the interaction with the other team will function. Because of this emergence, we don’t know how the team and its individual players should practice or play in order for the team to get the optimal result.
- This defies points 1-to-4 and 7-to-10 of the list above. That is because enhancing pre-determined tactics and techniques is not the optimal solution when the primary goal is not going to be executing those tactics and techniques. Rather, in a basketball game the primary goal is to adapt to the emerging interaction and to manipulate it the best that you can in any way that you can.
3) Top-down Causation
- The positivistic coaching approach relies on bottom-up causation. The idea is that through training, positive changes are caused in parts of a system. Then in turn, those changes will cause positive changes in the functioning of the system.
- Or in basketball terms, the players practice and develop. This development will help the team to play more effectively.
- But what is ignored in the positivistic approach is that in complex systems also top-down causation takes place. In other words, changes in functioning of the system will also cause changes in the functioning of its parts.
- Or in basketball terms:l It’s not just players affecting how the team plays, but also the team affecting how the players play. And as the teams affect how the game unfolds, the game affects how the teams play.
- This feedback loop defies reductionism, or points 3-to-6 in the list above. Because of the top-down causation, the functioning of a system can not be explained merely through the functioning of its own part.