November 4, 2020In Uncategorized13 Minutes

During the last twenty years, also thanks to the diffusion of the contribution of developmental cognitive neuroscience and the unfolding of the theory of complex dynamic systems (Thelen & Smith, 1994), scientists have found a meeting point between various disciplines, including psychology, biology, physics, adhering to a new transversal approach to reality, which seeks to study the global processes that occur within complex systems. A complex system is characterized by some important properties:

1- the system is more than the sum of its parts (a reductionist approach, which tends to split up the elements of the system, isolating them from their environment, does not effectively explain the dynamics and changes that occur within the system);

2- each system is organized as a whole and the individual elements of the system are interdependent and influence each other, therefore there is a non-linear, but circular causality (we cannot distinguish the cause from the effect, but we can see them as two aspects that continuously transform into each other in a process of change, which involves relationships within the system in an unpredictable way);

3- systems tend to progress towards an ever greater degree of complexity, through moments of disturbance that create opportunities for self-organisation of new equilibria that are more complex than the previous ones (new patterns of interactive behavior and new adaptations are created depending on the context).

This model therefore postulates that every change that occurs within a system, from the simplest (a single neuron), to the increasingly complex ones (the brain, the individual, the team etc…) is always dependent on the context within which the system is immersed. The presence of specific constraints within the environment creates the conditions for channeling the development of the system towards particular directions, which are reinforced with the experience of adaptation, through a progressive narrowing of the degrees of freedom. Furthermore, the final form to which the changes within the system lead are not predictable a priori and constitute emergent properties within the system itself, which self-organize through the specific bidirectional interactions between the system and the environment. Complex systems are often made up of multiple subsystems, which are separated by boundaries and contain their own interactions governed by implicit rules and patterns of behavior.

Football is an open skill sport with a high degree of complexity, which contains within it numerous variables and elements of unpredictability to which the player and the team must continually adapt according to their objectives. During the learning process and within the game, emotional, motivational, cognitive (tactical), motor (technical) and social processes intervene simultaneously, which influence the individual’s performance. Likewise, football, being part of the so-called team sports, involves collective behaviors that are configured through the interactions and relationships that are established between the individuals that make up the group. In fact, in the game, individual choices are always profoundly interrelated with the collective dynamics that emerge within the specific context in which they are inserted.

The theory of complex dynamic systems therefore proves to be appropriate for the characteristics of this sport, particularly in the youth context, where changes and learning strongly connect the young person with the environment in which he is inserted. As we have been able to observe, a fertile environment for the emergence of increasingly complex and adaptive behaviors must have very specific characteristics: the presence of elements that disrupt stability, or constraints, which guide development towards new trajectories; the insertion of the learning process within inductive contexts, which make the player and the team protagonists of the process of acquiring new skills, through elements of unpredictability and the creation of opportunities to find order in chaos; the awareness of the ineffectiveness of a method that aims to break down the elements of reality, in favor of a model that involves the integration of technical, tactical, cognitive, emotional and social components.

At a methodological level we can observe how the theory of dynamic systems can provide indications on how to operate within a youth sector at multiple levels: starting from the composition of the staff, to continue on the type of training that can prove most effective for the human and sporting growth of the group, and finally to the processes involved in the learning of a single individual.

At a first levelor we can imagine the entire youth sector as a complex system. From this perspective, the figure of the youth sector manager not only has the fundamental task of choosing staff members and assigning them specific roles, but also the responsibility of providing them with the tools to integrate their skills and cooperate according to shared goals. A staff immersed in a dynamic and complex environment will therefore not work in watertight compartments, but will collaborate through a community of knowledge. Consequently, the athletic trainer will have to know the coach’s playing philosophy to include it within his own programming, the psychologist will not remain behind a desk, but will act within the field in relation to all the technical figures present for the training of a shared working methodology, the coach will pay attention, in addition to the purely technical aspects, also to the cognitive and emotional components of the players. In order for this model to be realised, an important tool is the scheduled periodic meetings in which each staff figure should participate, where a discussion can be found and each objective can be revisited based on changes in the system and interdisciplinary integration.

At a second level, it is possible to consider the team as a subsystem, made up of the interactions established between the players and the staff. Within a game, these same interactions are the protagonists of the game, because through them the adaptive self-organisations of the group are configured in relation to the game context and specific behavioral patterns of the team are structured according to each individual’s movements and collective choices. As we have observed, the context is the privileged place for learning and work in the field, seen from a systemic perspective, it cannot be fragmented into exclusively individual components, into technical aspects without a tactical purpose, into pre-established game phases without a principle of continuity (causes cannot be distinguished from consequences). The training of a transmission, for example, cannot be separated from its context of implementation, since the transmission requires the presence of a teammate who moves away to receive the ball, but the separation cannot exist without an opponent who dictates the space and movement time, just as there is no transmission that is not followed by a new technical gesture guided by a tactical purpose. Transmission, like every technical gesture, involves communication and consequently a social component. For this reason, true training is that which brings the collective back into the chaos and unpredictability of the game, trying, through the creation of constraints (modification of the rules, dimensions or shapes of the field, the number of players) to emerge from the interactions between the characteristics of the players a self-organization towards increasingly complex and adaptive behavior patterns. Training through game principles can provide the team with anchors to hold onto to give meaning to events and to find regularities in complexity. It is through the development of the collective that the learning of the individual takes place. The coach, therefore, is nothing more than a builder of learning contexts and constraints that lead to new development trajectories.

Finally, each individual footballer forms a further subsystem. The new frontiers of cognitive neuroscience show a new way of seeing development that goes beyond the Cartesian idea of the clear separation between mind and body. The innovative theory of Embodied Cognition, in fact, explains how corporeity and its interaction with the environment are closely connected to cognitive functions and learning and are structured through processes of perception and action. The consequence is that the body, brain and environment exchange continuous information in a rapid and dynamic way, contributing to cognitive development through ever new adaptations. The dynamism of this process is given by the alternation of moments of stability in the patterns of thought and behavior and periods of disturbance of the balance in which new acquisitions emerge. It is therefore fundamental to provide the individual, particularly during sensitive periods for cognitive development (childhood and adolescence), with contexts that are always full of stimuli and constraints. Scientific studies reveal that cognitive components play a predominant role in modern football, where the ability to perceive the context, anticipate events and make adaptive decisions is fundamental for the effectiveness of the performance. An active pedagogy methodology, which puts the young footballer at the center of the learning process and requires resolutiontrue, through trials and errors, increasingly complex problems and experiences in an inductive way, leads to effective and internalized learning in the long term.


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November 4, 2020In Uncategorized13 Minutes