The role of ecological dynamics in analysing performance in team sports

Sports Med. 2012 Jan 1;42(1):1-10. doi: 10.2165/11596520-000000000-00000.


Performance analysis is a subdiscipline of sports sciences and one-approach, notational analysis, has been used to objectively audit and describe behaviours of performers during different subphases of play, providing additional information for practitioners to improve future sports performance. Recent criticisms of these methods have suggested the need for a sound theoretical rationale to explain performance behaviours, not just describe them. The aim of this article was to show how ecological dynamics provides a valid theoretical explanation of performance in team sports by explaining the formation of successful and unsuccessful patterns of play, based on symmetry-breaking processes emerging from functional interactions between players and the performance environment. We offer the view that ecological dynamics is an upgrade to more operational methods of performance analysis that merely document statistics of competitive performance. In support of our arguments, we refer to exemplar data on competitive performance in team sports that have revealed functional interpersonal interactions between attackers and defenders, based on variations in the spatial positioning of performers relative to each other in critical performance areas, such as the scoring zones. Implications of this perspective are also considered for practice task design and sport development programmes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Performance*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*