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.

Complex Basketball Coaching

What kind of an entity is basketball? And based on its essence, how should it be practiced and coached? Based on the analysis, should changes be made to the prevailing procedures? If so, what type of changes?

These are the questions we are dealing with here. In other words, we are trying to build a solid basis for discussing and improving basketball coaching. To do that, we are defining the main concepts and their relationships because that is an elementary prerequisite for a meaningful discussion.

I am writing and posting this piece by piece, chapter by chapter. Also, I am revising the blog whenever I find it necessary. So do not wonder if you revisit the piece and find it different from what you thought it was.

Also, please let me know if you spot loopholes in my thinking or if you want to share some of your ideas. I may implement relevant changes on the spot, if I find it justified.

Some of the ideas and writing presented are from my blog entry Complexity, Creativity, and Everything back in 2016. I took that one out because it needed to be improved and updated.

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Under-8-year-olds’ Basketball Training Principles

This writing from 2014 lists principles of organised U8 basketball. References to scientific articles are provided to back up the stated principles. I wrote this originally for Kouvot, club based in Kouvola, Finland.


Basic Principles of U8 Basketball

  • Early engagement in basketball is encouraged in order to enhance a child’s health and psychosocial well-being.
  • Every effort is made to make these enhancements both short-term and long-term.
  • Also, a solid base is put together for the child’s future development as an over-all athlete and a basketball player.

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Utilizing Differential Learning in Basketball Training

Up to a point, variability enhances the efficiency of motor skill practice, and differential learning enhances the variability. Thus the differential learning method should be utilized in basketball training.

However, in praxis you can’t just start doing differential learning even if you wanted to. Rather you need to run drills where the method is utilized. Traditionally, such drills are not a part of a basketball coach’s repertoire.

Another practical problem is that the variability needs to take place day in and day out. Thus, coaches need to plan it daily. That is why differential learning drills should be such that varying them they day to day does not take much time.

Here are two such drills – one with the emphasis on passing, the other with the emphasis on shooting. The key is that the variability in both is achieved by drawing different variations from a list put together beforehand, maybe over several years.

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Ideas on Building a Fast Fast Break Offense

All solid offenses run breaks that are fast up to a point. In this entry I’m trying to see how we could accelerate the offense beyond the point set by conventional wisdom. This is where the title comes from: “fast fast break offense” refers to an offense that is visibly faster than a solid, reasonable offense on the average.

I am writing and posting entry this piece by piece, chapter by chapter. The 14th and last chapter Improve Relevant Techniques was posted on Friday March 9. Please let me know if you spot loopholes in my thinking or if you want to share some of your ideas.

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Let Us Re-imagine Basketball

We should re-imagine basketball.

The current equipment and rules are designed to suit men’s top level. Elite players can go coast-to-coast in a flash, palm the ball, throw end-to-end passes, dunk the ball thunderously, hit threes as if they were lay-ups. You know, do all kinds of cool stuff.

The rest – kids, women, recreational male players – are left with a ball game that’s nice not really suited for them. This could be changed. We could modify the rules so that players of all levels would get to really enjoy the game.

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Improving Andre Drummond’s Free Throw

In a previous blog entry, I wrote about shooting and practicing shooting at a general level. Here I try to show how to implement those ideas into a real-life situation.

To make this concrete and familiar, let’s have a look at a much-publicized dilemma: an NBA player’s free throw shooting technique that is flawed and produces bad results. In other words, let’s look at Andre Drummond’s free throw shooting.

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