The forest through the trees: making sense of an ecological dynamics approach to measuring and developing collective behaviour in football


William Sheehan
Rhys Tribolet
Mark Watsford
Job Fransen


In this book, we interpret the literature that has analysed football performance from a tactical standpoint using an ecological dynamics perspective. This approach focuses on the performer–environment relationship and provides a basis for understanding the dynamic nature of performance in collective team sports (1) and will be explained in detail throughout. The first section of this text will provide a brief description of association football as well as commonly used methods to analyse football performance. The next section will briefly introduce common theories and practices used to measure team behaviour, decision-making, and performance enhancement in team sport, which are then used to introduce the ecological dynamics framework. This framework will then be used to aid the application of these findings for tactical analysis in team sports such as football. Finally, we will introduce some of the scientific literature on improving team performance, particularly in reference to team coordination and decision-making. The following sections of this book will deal specifically with how small-sided games can be used to develop tactical behaviour in football. A small-sided games approach was chosen as these modified games allow for the simultaneous development of players’ technical skills, conditioning, and ability to solve and overcome tactical challenges through coordinative behaviour and effective decision-making (2-5). Small-sided games provide an environment that mimics the perception–action couplings of in situ performance, which should, in theory, improve the transferability of learned behaviours to in-game performance (4, 6). As a result, small-sided games are often used by coaches and form an integral part of this text. Finally, we conclude with some recommendations for future research, and some practical considerations for coaches interested in applying the research discussed in this book.

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December 30, 2022


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