Self-Organization Processes in Field-Invasion Team Sports

Review by: William A. Harper
By Pedro Passos, Duarte Araújo, Keith Davids

The Big Idea

Since these investigators brought it up in their abstract’s first sentence, let’s briefly talk about ant colonies as a bridge to the subject of self-organization in field-invasion team sports.

Imagine this. There is a flood threatening a colony of ants. What do they do? No problem or panic: they simply build an ant raft. These pancake-like rafts are composed of the ants themselves—sometimes as many as 100,000—who instinctively connect themselves perpendicular to each other—always heads up—and weave a buoyant ant craft, “sometimes as large as a dinner plate (that) can float for weeks, enabling the colony to survive and find a new home,” says biologist David Hu from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Hu goes on to say that what is happening at the big scale is the product of lots of local interactions at the small scale.

Now imagine this. What if we look at the organization process of field-invasion sports as sort of like the behavior of ant colonies? As the authors of this article say up front, they see field-invasion team sports as a complex social system where spontaneous self-organizing coordination can be used to engender interpersonal interactions between players and teams. Or, more simply put, the organizational process of team-invasion sports is somewhat like the inherent improvisation of creating ant rafts.