Today's blog was written by Trenton Templetom. Trenton is a senior accounting major and theology minor at the University of Notre Dame and a student in the Social Foundations of Coaching course taught by Play Like a Champion's Professor Clark Power and Kristin Sheehan.
When someone who is not familiar with the sport of basketball sees a game, on the surface, there might not be a ton of science that goes into it. One might see Steph Curry just running around attempting to get open so that he can shoot the ball and hope it goes in, as it often does. However, new research from the University of Las Palmas de GranCanaria (Spain) recognized quite a bit of science when they observed more than 6,000 NBA games, and their findings are quite intriguing. Researchers found that basketball games resemble different activities that arise in nature.
There is a hypothesis in science called the Red Queen Evolutionary Hypothesis. It contemplates how species must continuously improve in order to simply maintain their status within the environment where they co-evolve alongside other living things. This same hypothesis, when applied to basketball, is highlighted and researchers found that basketball teams can be considered self-organized systems. In other words, basketball teams tend to manage game flow and adapt when new obstacles are presented to them. Teams repeat certain strategies if they continue to work--such as keeping a high offensive tempo, and stop any activities that do not appear to work such as fouling the opposing team’s big man. Faced with a problem, each team can propose several valid solutions. For example, rather than attacking the basket, a team decides to shoot outside jump shots. Many different actions can happen, and sometimes simultaneously. The game play is dictated by each teams’ creativity.
A closer resemblance to nature can be seen at the end of games during the final minute where teams really intensify in hopes of a victory. De Saa Guerra, the head researcher on this topic, highlights the similarities of nature and basketball in the final minute, “In a predator-prey system, for instance, or in a natural changing environment with limited resources, species evolve in their arms race by adapting. They continuously fight and give it their all just to survive, not to ensure their triumph. In such cases, a small adaptive advantage can go a long way. Likewise, basketball teams must fight extremely hard simply to make it to that last minute, and any advantage -as small as it may seem- can be critical at that moment." Whatever happened leading up to that final moment no longer matters, and any mistake, head start or slip-up can determine the outcome of the game.
Just like in nature, the team that is better able to adapt to the changing environment wins the competition. The resemblance is eye opening because most people, even researchers, look at basketball as a random sport dictated by probabilities. However, a closer look reveals that the flow of basketball is quite similar to what we observe in nature. Maybe that is why we love basketball so much: because it highlights the primitive nature in us.