Numerical relations and skill level constrain co-adaptive behaviors of agents in sports teams
- Publisher: Public Library of Science
Research Article | Biology and Life Sciences | Psychology | Collective Human Behavior | Sports and Exercise Medicine | Social Sciences | Human Movement | Human Performance | Medicine and Health Sciences | Behavior
Similar to other complex systems in nature (e.g., a hunting pack, flocks of birds), sports teams have been modeled as social neurobiological systems in which interpersonal coordination tendencies of agents underpin team swarming behaviors. Swarming is seen as the result of agent co-adaptation to ecological constraints of performance environments by collectively perceiving specific possibilities for action (affordances for self and shared affordances). A major principle of invasion team sports assumed to promote effective performance is to outnumber the opposition (creation of numerical overloads) during different performance phases (attack and defense) in spatial regions adjacent to the ball. Such performance principles are assimilated by system agents through manipulation of numerical relations between teams during training in order to create artificially asymmetrical performance contexts to simulate overloaded and underloaded situations. Here we evaluated effects of different numerical relations differentiated by agent skill level, examining emergent inter-individual, intra- and inter-team coordination. Groups of association football players (national – NLP and regional-level – RLP) participated in small-sided and conditioned games in which numerical relations between system agents were manipulated (5v5, 5v4 and 5v3). Typical grouping tendencies in sports teams (major ranges, stretch indices, distances of team centers to goals and distances between the teams' opposing line-forces in specific team sectors) were recorded by plotting positional coordinates of individual agents through continuous GPS tracking. Results showed that creation of numerical asymmetries during training constrained agents' individual dominant regions, the underloaded teams' compactness and each team's relative position on-field, as well as distances between specific team sectors. We also observed how skill level impacted individual and team coordination tendencies. Data revealed emergence of co-adaptive behaviors between interacting neurobiological social system agents in the context of sport performance. Such observations have broader implications for training design involving manipulations of numerical relations between interacting members of social collectives.