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Research Reviews

Overview of Complex Systems in Sport

Balague, C. Torrents, R. Hristovski, K. Davids, and D. Araujo

The Big Idea

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) was a legendary Canadian poet, singer-songwriter, and novelist.  The following lyrics are from his 1992 album The Future and the song “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Let’s assume there is a crack in our conventional understanding of practicing, training for, and playing competitive sports.  Not a break.  Just a crack.  These researchers and others of like researcher-minds are detecting a crack.  In this overview paper, they are reporting what they see from the light that gets in.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, getting some clarity on what they see is obscured by their imposing vocabulary.  Probably the most off-putting word for sporting coaches and players alike—besides the word “losing”—is the word “complex.”  That word is the antithesis of keeping things simple.  Another suspect word is “systems,” suggesting inputs and outputs, parts and wholes, processes and procedures—things less than human.  When tethered...

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