Sport Systems – fragments of thought #1

Mark Upton
Apr 21, 2017

There has been plenty kicking off on twitter and blogs this week, sparked by a couple of news articles on youth/talent development in English football. It has been great to see some “complimentary blogging”, beginning with Mark O Sullivan’s post from 2015 and then followed by Peter Mattsson, Andy Kirkland and Mark again. Unfortunately we don’t see as much of this (or thoughtful commentary at the end of blog posts) as we used to, perhaps limiting the opportunity to think and act anew.

Whilst taking all this content in, a raft of reflections and ruminations have consumed my (limited) capacity…I feel the urge to continue this complimentary blogging with fragments of immediate thoughts. Because of the fragmented nature they may not be particularly coherent at first…bear with me and hopefully that will change!

I’m quite interested in the intentions of actors within a sport system, ie youth football in England. I perceive most parents and coaches have good intent with regard to their role in developing youth…but their behaviour does not always reflect this. On the other hand, those “high up” in formal positions of power I have less faith in regarding good intent.

But should we target and hold individuals accountable for their behaviour and intentions? Or are there situational and systemic influences that need to be considered? And if we did so would we be more likely to shift a sport system towards a more desirable state?

Influenced by previous conversations with Al Smith, I’ve been thinking about Phillip Zimbardo’s work quite a bit lately. In this video, Zimbardo encourages us to consider whether we have bad apples, a bad barrel or bad barrel-makers…


“If you want to change a person, change the situation. And to change it, you’ve got to know where the power is, in the system. The system creates the situation that corrupts the individuals, and the system is the legal, political, economic, cultural background. And this is where the power is of the bad-barrel makers. It’s a dynamic interplay. What do the people bring into the situation? What does the situation bring out of them? And what is the system that creates and maintains that situation?”

fragment one complete…