Sport Systems – fragments of thought #10


governing and funding bodies are PART of a complex social system – not THE system

Mark Upton
Sep 16, 2017

previous fragments – #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9

In one of the links in fragment #9 it was intimated that innovation in football academies could be hampered by rigid regulations imposed from the governing body of that sport.

This is not a sport-specific phenomena…Peter Gray (2014) talks of the same issue in education and the challenges of growing the number of Sudbury Valley-style schools. In a bid to control the system governing bodies impose regulations around standardization and measuring what can easily be measured (but often don’t particularly matter), stifling evolution through variation.

“Evolution requires variation. To the degree that variation is prevented by law, evolution cannot occur” – Peter Gray

One of the tensions at the moment in many sports systems is the struggle of governing and funding bodies to come to terms with the fact that they are a PART of a complex social system – not THE system. The latent potential of these complex social systems goes unrealised by attempts to seize and centralize ‘control’, often through ludicrous reporting demands and excessive use of arbitrary numerical targets and KPI’s.

Bjarte Bogsnes provides a useful critique in Hitting the target but missing the point – myths about target setting

“Without targets people won’t know what to do”. Not true. Words can often address direction and expectations much more clearly and intelligently than what any single number can do.

Without targets people will not be motivated to perform. Not true. Many, including myself, are much more fired up by the right words, igniting our hearts in a very different way than those clinical and decimal-loaded numbers which only reach our brains.

Without targets we are unable to evaluate performance”. Not true. This one might be the most solid myth to bust.

Given all this, it was timely to hear from Harold Jarche this week…

This really struck a chord given our ‘Life in Sport’ initiative mentioned at the end of the last post. The purpose is to put humanity at the forefront of sport at all levels…so that everyone can live a meaningful life in their sport(s).

In a current engagement related to talent development this has involved ‘relearning’ of strategic intent and action, enabling new connections, dialogue and interactions between people (creating the conditions for a potential shift in culture to emerge).

This can be difficult work and sometimes quite challenging for managers and formal leaders – my own experience and previous mistakes suggest it is much easier to hide behind a spreadsheet than constantly attend to the conversations that matter.

“ We need leaders with competence beyond the ability to compare numbers. Leadership is not meant to be easy” – Bjarte Bogsnes

Our hope is ‘Life in Sport’ can help sports organisations better attune to and act in these complex social systems and, returning to the theme at the start of this post, open up the space for innovation and evolution in learning, player development and coaching.