Seeking the Edge of Chaos

Mark Upton
May 10, 2017 · 2 min read

Below is a nice little primer on the “edge of chaos”, revealing that it is here where a system (player/team/club/national sport) can be most adaptive…

I’ve been mashing up these ideas around order, chaos and complexity in a team sport context for a while now…

This illustrates the idea that excellence in team sport learning and performance can be attained along a continuum and may be optimal right at the edge of chaos (the “adaptive zone”). Where that edge is will likely vary from one system (player/team) to the next, and is dynamic. Figuring out where to draw lines in the sand (constraints) at any moment in time is an on-going puzzle.

“for a given system the region which lies between order and disorder provides an optimal environment for learning and adaptation” (Cowan & Pines)

It has been a fascinating personal and shared journey understanding and applying these theoretical ideas in team sports (unknowingly at first!). I’ve observed first-hand that this way of viewing the world is already, or more readily, adopted in certain countries/regions. For example, FC Barcelona have recently shared their intention to use these ideas (complex systems, ecological approaches, coordination dynamics) as a framework to increase understanding, share knowledge and support coaches into the future…


In a practical sense this is about exploring the space between the extremes of “just let them play” and “drill everything in isolation until it becomes ingrained”, understanding the wider socio-cultural dynamics that swirl around and influence us, and coming to terms with the decision making and adaptive expertise required from coaches when inhabiting this space.

Starting next month, Richard Shuttleworth and I are very much looking forward to the opportunity to support a select group of coaches with this exploration…

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