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The Void of Explanatory Knowledge in Sport

Problems

As discussed in “The Governing Dynamics of Coaching”, sport is in its infancy. This is an objective fact. The overwhelming majority of sports, around the world, are less than 100 years old, and the professional sports are younger still. More consequential than the young age of sport, however, is the fact that the culture of sport is, by nature, dogmatic. This is made possible by the factor that provides all sport coaches with an extraordinary room for error that is not granted to most other professionals- the unique compensating mechanisms of athletes.

Every sport coach has a margin for error that is, by comparison, many factors greater than that shared by even the most parochial of other professionals. Consider a line cook at a fast food restaurant: this person cooking hamburgers is, whether you’ve thought about this or not, held to a phenomenally higher standard than any sport coach in the history of sport; because if that hamburger is overcooked or undercooked by the slightest margin, this error is immediately recognizable by the consumer. Alternatively, in sport, the ability for athletes to overcome being “overcooked” or “undercooked” is the factor that allows for incredible misconceptions to exist in sport that are untenable in the majority of other professions. This factor is adaptability.

Unlike a hamburger, or the building materials used by builders, or the engine components used by mechanics…the human body is an extraordinarily adaptive system. Neither cooks, builders, mechanics, or a host of other professionals can rely, consciously or not, on the adaptability of the materials of their tradecraft to save them if they demonstrate incompetence during the cooking, building, repairing… something every sport coach in the world is privy to.

Human beings, same as all other biological entities, have, quite literally, regenerative ability. Cells repair, cuts, bruises, and fractures heal, muscles recover and this combined with the multi-factorial nature of sport (i.e. multiple contributing mechanisms that can in no way be attributed to a single person) renders a unique conundrum:

·      If a team/athlete performs exceptionally well, particularly over time, it must have something to do with exceptional coaching

·      But if a team/athlete gets dominated by another team or athlete, they just got beat by a better team or athlete

Imagine if the same flawed logic granted the same leeway to cooks, builders, and car mechanics when things go wrong:

·      That was the worst meal I’ve ever had, must just be a bad batch of ingredients

·      The roof on my new condo started leaking after one month, must have something to do with the shingles

·      I was having problems with my transmission for months. I brought it to the mechanic and it ran well for two days and now it runs even worse than when I brought it into the shop. Guess it’s just the car.

Clearly, no such ignorance is offered by restaurant goers, home or car owners, yet naïve apologies exist in myriad proportions in sport. What’s more, however, this combined with sport coaching’s hierarchical nature, allows for the dogmatism to be compounded by draconian edicts that are either directly administered by the hierarchy or exist in terms of unspoken rules that all subordinates are aware of; all of which are a product of the dysfunctional culture of sport in general.  

Solutions

The solution for overcoming sport’s dogma and received wisdom, no matter how prevalent they are proffered in coaching education and coaching conferences, is the cultivation of cultures that are based upon criticisms and conjectures that are qualified by their contained explanatory depth.

For those who own “The Governing Dynamics of Coaching”, recall physicist David Deutsch’s definition of a good explanation being “one that is hard to vary while still explaining what it purports to explain”. Now square this against what you know exists within the sports world, both in terms of the quality of criticisms and reasons for winning or losing and note how familiar the following reads:

·      I’m the right coach for the job because every staff I’ve been part of has won

·      Did you see what that coach did on 3rd down, what an idiot

·      No, we’re going to do it this way because this is what we did when we won a championship

·      That’s a lousy idea

·      We won because we made less mistakes than they did

·      The reason we lost, we didn’t execute to our potential

·      I worked with her, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about

·      Credit to my opponent, he was the better man today

What all of these statements have in common is that they are bad explanations because of how shallow they are in explanatory depth (easy to vary).

Further, note how an explanation can be true, yet still bad because of how easy it is to vary:

A coin is tossed and it lands on tails:

·      It landed on tails because the ‘heads’ side is facing down

Alternatively, note how an explanation can be robust, yet bad because it fails due to its intrinsic bad logic and/or does not pertain to the subject matter:

A coin is tossed and it lands on tails:

·      Well the reason it landed on tails, and not heads, is because of Newton’s 3rd law. The coin tosser initiated the toss with the tails side facing down and because every action has an equal and opposite reaction the coin landed with the tail side facing up.

This explanation is bad, but not because it’s easy to vary. It’s bad because it makes no sense relative to Newton’s 3rd law nor to the outcome of a coin toss.

Explanatory depth is two factored:

·      It must be difficult to vary

·      It must precisely adhere to the subject matter

Once these criteria are consistently met in one’s explanations, the value of their criticisms and conjectures rises commensurately.

Now, the bad explanations previously listed:

·      I’m the right coach for the job because every staff I’ve been part of has won

·      Did you see what that coach did on 3rd down, what an idiot

·      No, we’re going to do it this way because this is what we did when we won a championship

·      That’s a lousy idea

·      We won because we made less mistakes than they did

·      The reason we lost, we didn’t execute to our potential

·      I worked with her, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about

·      Credit to my opponent, he was the better man today

…become:

·      I’m confident in my ability to lead this team because of my subject matter knowledge in all relevant domains that pertain to coaching (The Governing Dynamics of Coaching), my ability to self-regulate my emotions and operate efficiently amidst any possible set of circumstances, I interact and communicate well with people in any variety of age groups and socio-economic backgrounds, and I will foster a culture that embraces a flat hierarchy, criticism, conjecture, and rational thinking.

·      That third down call was a poor decision because, statistically, the opponent showed blitz 87% of the time on anything longer than 3rd and 5 and that 3rd and 7 play call left the extra defender unguarded so the sack may as well have been handed to them.

·      No, we’re going to do it this way because it is the most rational solution that has been presented and it has held up to every possible criticism thus far

·      That’s a lousy idea because it is much too easy to vary and it doesn’t even pertain to the problem

·      Only after a quantitative analysis of the game will I be able to tell you why we won

·      Only after a quantitative analysis of the game will I be able to tell you why we lost

·      I worked with her, she was always highly resistant to criticism and would tirelessly defend her ignorant arguments, while remaining unwilling to reason

·      Credit to my opponent, he won. As to why he won and I lost, I’ll only be able to tell you that after a quantitative analysis of the competition.

This knowledge must be assimilated into sport if:

·      owners, managers, and athletic directors are to become more competent in interviewing and selecting coaches

·      cultures are to be established that account for far more than ethical standards and begin to approach the collective of human intellectual achievement by way of embracing criticism and conjecture

·      coaches are to maximize the relevance of what occurs in and out of practice, the optimization of weeks of preparation, and the extent to which it is assimilated by athletes

·      and teams and organizations as a whole are to operate closer to the limits of the human potential of each of their employees

All of which is decided by knowledge, and one’s ability to demonstrate their understanding of any possible subject matter is decided by the nature of their explanations.

contact James@globalsportconcepts.net for consulting information

 

Entries in this blog

Psychology in Sport and the Myth of Mental Toughness

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Competition Strategic Planning

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The Fundamental Need for Theorists in Sport

The Fundamental Need for Theorists in Sport

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Negligence in Coaching

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Criticize the Canons of Sport

Criticize the Canons of Sport

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LTAD Out... LTSD In

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A Building Analogy as the Future of Sport Coaching

A Building Analogy as the Future of Sport Coaching

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Sport Coaching Has Much to Learn from A Brilliant Mathematician

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Error Correction in Sport is the Key to its Progress

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Critical Thinking and the Success or Failure of Sport

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The Static Institution of Sport

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Invalid Logic in Sport Coaching

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James Smith

James Smith

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