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Soccer from First Principles

17 Sep 2018   ·   

Soccer has undoubtedly become a hot topic of research nowadays. Several branches of science seek to approach their theories by solving daily basis activities such as the game of soccer, and indeed, many of the events taking place in it are of this kind and very differently (e.g., physical, physiological, perceptual-cognitive, emotional, social and even political). Therefore, the fiddly job behind scientists and students of the game in general is to find the right scientific questions to study an unknown system. Although one often has to rely on intuitions lacking any form of methodology or logic to find the right degrees of freedom (DoFs), there are some fundamental principles of nature in general, that can be used to understand soccer specifically.

The goal of this post is to outline a series of principles that are considered to be crucial to understand the development of FC Barcelona’s playing style. The topics range from the metaphysics of the game such as the difference between complicated with complex systems (apparently, not well understood); or even the physical nature of the game, from its metaphysics to the most promising modeling techniques of the game vs those that present considerable limitations or even to the training methodologies pioneered by professor Seirul.lo carried out at FC Barcelona, revealing its theoretical background never discovered by anyone yet.

By choosing two extremes in the studiedness spectrum of team sports, “theoretical” principles of the game of soccer on the one side and theoretical-practice oriented approached on the other, we aim to aim to bridge the epistemological ellipsis between practice and theory, too often granted as an irreparable gap. Indeed, we argue that this divide might be bridged by developing a theory to provide content and to guide research for team sports. Such a theory should bring forth the following: 1) an ontology (and its corresponding language), defining the kinds of entities, properties and events that each sport is made of, 2) scale boundaries, determining the smallest and largest spatio-temporal and functional scales at which events are relevant to the game, 3) a paradigm or several paradigms from which predictions from the theory can be tested, 4) analytic methods that optimally grasp the degrees of freedom the theory supports, 5) a unifying or integrating structure by which different levels of description are allowed by the theory without entailing fragmentation.

Inspired, thus, by the Gibsonian approach to perception and action (Gibson, 1979) and the study of coordinated movement of Nicolai Bernstein (Bernstein, circa 1940s in Latash & Turvey, 1996), a hybrid combination further developed by Michael Turvey, Bob Shaw and others among the most influential behavioral scientists from the latest decades of the 20th Century (e.g., Turvey, Shaw, Reed & Mace, 1981), our efforts will conjoint towards advocating for an ecological physics (Gibson, 1979; Turvey & Shaw, 1995) together with the integration of the most pioneering training theories and methodologies from Paco Seirul.lo (see e.g., Seirul.lo, 1976) at FCB to develop a theoretically-driven and practice-oriented approach for the study of team sports in general, and specifically, in soccer. Thus, proposing an approach that can serve to both, scientists and coaches.

Maurici A. López-Felip. Center for the Ecological Study of Perception and Action, USA. Team Sports Department at Futbol Club Barcelona, Barça Innovation Hub, Spain.

Francisco Seirul.lo Vargas. University of Barcelona, Spain. Team Sports Department at Futbol Club Barcelona, Barça Innovation Hub, Spain.


Gibson, J.J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Latash, M. L., & Turvey, M. T. (Eds.), (1996). Dexterity and its development. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Seirul.lo, F. (1976). Hacia una sinergética del entrenamiento. Apuntes de Medicina Deportiva, 13, 93-94.

Turvey, M. T., & Shaw., R. E. (1995). Toward an ecological physics and a physical psychology. In R. L. Solso, & D. W. Massaro (Eds.), The Science of the Mind: 2001 and Beyond. New York: Oxford University Press.

Turvey, M. T., Shaw, R., Reed, E., & Mace, W. (1981). Ecological laws of perceiving and acting: In reply to Fodor & Pylyshyn (1981). Cognition, 9, 237-304.


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