How Basketball Is a Complex System

This entry is also Chapter 1 of my blog Complex Basketball Coaching, which is a work in progress.

What type of an entity is basketball? Answering this question is important in order to define basketball. That definition will help us to define coaching and practicing basketball. Eventually, those definitions allow us to meaningfully discuss how the efficiency of practicing and coaching the sport may be enhanced.

In the contemporary research, invasion team sports such as basketball are often viewed as complex systems. Let us make that our starting point and see if that point of view is valid.

 

A system is an entity where:

  • A set of parts are “interconnected so that changes in some [parts] or their relations produce changes in other parts of the system”, and
  • The whole “exhibits properties and behaviors that are different from those of the parts.”

Additionally, complex systems have these properties:

  • They have autonomous parts whose interaction produces emergence. Thus based on the input, one can not exactly know what the output of a complex system will be.
  • They themselves are parts of hierarchies of complex systems. Consequently they e.g. adapt to changes in the environment.

Given these definitions, a basketball team is a complex system. Most of the researchers also treat invasion team sport games as complex systems. This has been questioned. Lebed argues that rather than a system, a game is “a conflict of — two complex dynamical systems”.

However, there is no reason why a conflict like that could not be a complex system, too. Given the definitions above, a basketball game does meet the two conditions of a system and the additional two conditions of a complex system.

  1. The two teams involved in a game are “interconnected so that changes in some [parts] or their relations produce changes” in the game. The defense played by Team A affects the offense by team B. 
  2. A game “exhibits properties and behaviors that are different from those” of the teams involved. Team A alone can not play a game but Team B is needed, too.
  3. The teams are autonomous parts whose interaction produces emergence. Thus based on the teams, one can not exactly know what the outcome of the game will be like. Based on information regarding Teams A and B, it is impossible to know in advance how a game between the two teams will unfold. This is the case regardless of the quantity and the quality of the information.
  4. Games are parts of hierarchies of complex systems. Consequently they e.g. adapt to changes in the environment. A game between Team A and Team B is a scale in a hierarchy of complex systems. A scale one step down is the scale of Team A’s individual players. A scale one step up is the scale of the league where the game is played.

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