(Podcast Notes) Mark O’Sullivan — “Decision Making, Dualism, and Descartes”

Josh Faga
Josh Faga
Feb 12, 2019 · 10 min read
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Listen to the Full Podcast Here

Key Takeaways

  • We need to stop polarizing issues in coaching. Practice informs theory and theory informs practice.
  • His goal is to help players develop an understanding the game, rather than the game.
  • 4 Principles of Non-Linear Pedagogy: 1) Representative Learning 2) Repetition without repetition 3) Keep Perception-Action coupled 4) Promote an external focus of attention
  • Competition within a team/club causes players to .

Theory vs Practice

  • He makes the case that it really isn’t a question of which has contributed more to coaching knowledge, but which has been allowed to contribute more to coaching knowledge
  • He thinks theory has not been allowed to contribute to coaching knowledge due to a combination of bias from practitioners and it’s own inherent flaws
  • Flaws of theory —
  • At the same time, he thinks there is a growing myth among coaching circles that concepts and methods are meant to be , or need to be He claims this is a myth. AIK works with FC Barcelona’s research team and below is a snapshot of the language used among their Academy staff
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Concepts from Philosophy, Psychology, and Complex Systems research being used by FC Barcelona Academy Coaches. “they are talking about emergence and self-organization — they aren’t shying away from academic terminology, they are embracing it.
  • He takes not of the hypocritical nature of a lot of coaches. They idolize Pep while ignoring that he was influenced by Juanma Lillo and Paco Seiru-lo.
  • Mark’s Philosophy of coach education and coaching is that “
  • If a coach isn’t well read, then he will introduce them to some papers and academic research. If a coach has only been exposed to academia, then he will get him out on the pitch to get his hands dirty.
  • He emphasizes the importance of theory and theorized practice because what we have today is a lot of,
  • We need to stop polarizing issues in coaching. Practice informs theory and theory informs practice.

Learning is Non-Linear

  • Mark feels this is the most fundamental concept that coaches and organizations fail to understand
  • To understand what this means, Mark asks the listeners to recall how their children learned to walk.
  • This example goes to show you that,
  • He poses the argument that maybe we should start coach education courses with rather than straight into information about the game.
  • He believes we take this same misinformed linear approach to coach education. Education is not a linear process where you learn A, then B, then C, then D.
  • He also criticizes how coach education delivers theory. “They tell you how to plan — first you set up this, then you address the kids like this,then do this, and that, these are your questions, etc. It’s so prepared that you lose the

Survivorship Bias

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Bobby Knight [respectfully] disagrees with the referee
  • A lot of coaches today will cite ‘successful’ coaches as evidence to validate certain methods. For example, the success of Bobby Knight, former Indiana University Basketball Coach, could be used as evidence to validate the top-down, command style, authoritarian, ‘macho’ coaching style
  • Mark’s response invokes a concept called “Survivorship Bias” —
  • Mark makes a great counter-point to the claim that we should be imitating the ‘best coaches’. The important thing to keep in mind is that that’s what a certain club did, or a certain coach did, in a very particular context, in a very particular culture, and in a very particular time. We can’t extract universal truths from particular situations.
  • We need to be more vigilant against people, organizations, clubs, and companies trying to sell their product, methodology, or book on the basis of survivorship bias.

Hollywood Coaching

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Hollywood as a cultural constraint
  • He believes that more coaches have been influenced by Hollywood movies than they have coach education courses.
  • It would be interesting to go through all of the Hollywood movies and take not of the various coaching personalities manifested and how those have played out in the real world.

Constraints Led Approach

  • At AIK, the Swedish Club he works at, they follows the Constraints Led Approach, which embraces the role of non-linearity in the learning process.
  • They now focus on what is holding a player back (rate limiter) and how they can manipulate constraints to help the player coordinate a functional movement under the various task constraints

There are 3 main constraints:

  1. — constraints on the physical/psychological characteristics of the individual player that can change over fast/slow time scales.

a. Slow to change = Height, weight, body composition, muscle architecture.

b. Change Rapidly = motivation, emotions, anxiety, etc.

2. — Physical properties external to player (culture, ambient light, playing surface, societal expectations, historical, media, etc.)

3. — goal of the task that is more specific to performance (rules, space, position, etc.)

  • He tells the story of two children, one growing up with a single mother on the 31st floor of an apartment building who is watched by his grandmother all day and another growing up on the 1st floor with an older brother and sister that play football with him all day.
  • Traditionally, clubs will apply a selection process and you know which player will be selected out, but the point is that,

Decision Making

  • We need to stop treating player’s brains as if they are information processing devices akin to computers.
  • Players make decisions in the game by being adapted [attuned] to the environment.
  • Perception in the game is
  • His goal is to help players develop an understanding the game, rather than the game.
  • When would Mark step in?
  • He views the role of the coach as of the players to the

Learning Design

  • He makes it clear how important is.
  • How they act in response to the design is when you go in as a coach and start
  • According to JJ Gibson (1979) —
  • He says, Players don’t theorize in the middle of a game, so the decision and the execution are nested inside of one another. We don’t perceive and then act, we perceive-act.


  1. Representative Learning — Are what the players doing and feeling representative of the game. Negative Example: If you say everyone has to touch the ball before being able to score, that’s not representative of the game because the goalkeepers positioning provides information.
  2. Repetition without Repetition (Movement Variability) — Repetition with variation in movement solutions.
  3. Keep Perception-Action Coupled — Session design should reflect aspects of the real game
  4. Promote an external focus of attention — get players to focus on , not what they are doing (internal focus). Too much of an internal focus of attention, like a specific passing technique, breaks down under game pressure.
  • Search, Discover, Exploit space and gaps. (Football interactions that emerge: Dribble, drive, pass, shoot, movement without ball)
  • Close space, minimize possibilities for opponent’s football interactions and win the ball. (Football Interactions that emerge: Press, tackling, movement without the ball)



  • Mark hypothesizes that , or youth academy, within a club/team.
  • Why do we encourage players to compete with each other for selection? It’s not clear why they should be competing/fighting since they have nothing to fight about. In fact,
  • Inside of team’s that worships competition, players become obsessed with competition . Amid all the drama that is created, players can and they focus more on their rivals instead.
  • Take two players as an example. Instead of prospering independently, they compete aggressively and .
  • The result? Both players become so focused on competing against each other that a 3rd player overtakes them both.
  • Rivalry/competition causes players to . Instead of iterating and improving, they rely on what they can already do in the hopes of outcompeting their (perceived) rival in the team.
  • Competition can also make players where none exist.
  • Competition is more useful within an individual, not between individuals (within a team). As Jordan Peterson says,

Planning a Session

  • He doesn’t plan sessions. He plans from the principles of the game:
  1. Search, Discover, Exploit space and gaps. (Football interactions that emerge: Dribble, drive, pass, shoot, movement without ball)
  2. Close space, minimize gaps and possibilities for opponent’s football interactions and win the ball. (Football Interactions that emerge: Press, tackling, movement without the ball)
  • The above principles are but is up to the players.


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