Bounded rationalty, conversations and time

Sam Robertson and David Joyce (2019) have discussed “sport science’s accelerated uptake of technology and the resultant data growth” . Their paper introduces us to bounded rationality theory to address some of the “complexity in judgement and decision-making contexts” as the amount of data available in sport increases.

Their paper considers the adoption of a “bounded rationality approach in applied sports environments” that can help to understand “why differences exist in the interpretation of some of sport science’s most complex problems”. Their experiences in high performance locate their arguments in contexts that are of direct interest to analytics and coaching.

Sam Robertson

Sam is a member of staff at Victoria University and, at the Western Bulldogs AFL (as Head of Research and Innovation), he partners with senior Bulldogs staff whilst overseeing performance research undertaken at the club. A profile of Sam noted:

Sam specialises in applications of machine learning to practical problems in high performance sport.
This includes wrangling data obtained via wearable sensors, vision tracking and other athlete performance data. Sam also works on improving decision-making of athletes and organisations via analytics.

David has led the Athletic Performance Unit at the Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL since 2015. David’s involvement in physiotherapy, strength and conditioning and rehabilitation has given him extensive opportunities in sport. David was a lead physiotherapist at the English Institute of Sport. He has lectured at the University of Bath and at Edith Cowan University. Sam and David worked together in 2017 to write about evaluating strategic periodisation in team sport (link).

Their discussion of bounded rationality posits “that in complex situations, individuals who intend to make rational decisions are bound to make merely satisfactory choices, rather than maximizing or optimising ones”. (Herbert Simon (1972) talks about “replacing optimisation criteria with criteria of satisfactory performance”.)

To illustrate their argument, Sam and David provide an example of evaluating the match performance of an AFL player. They consider three scenarios (boundaries) in this evaluation:

  • What we measure.
  • What we don’t measure.
  • What we don’t know .

They conclude with the suggestion:

by acknowledging the limitations of human information processing capacities and the lenses through which information is filtered, a humility can be engendered that can turn more of these decisions into better ones.

The use of ‘humility’ in this context is very important. It takes time for this humility to emerge. It is an important behaviour in team decision making as is an understanding of deference. My hope is that as support teams become much more focussed on interdiscplinary activity we start to become more collaborative in our actions. This enables staff to engage with the bounded rationality issues Sam and David raise.

Finding time for these conversations is vital. As the flow of data increases it will be essential to deal with this flow as a dynamic activity and one that a team can share and discuss. Jamie Youngson, in his research, has explored this in the context of strength and conditioning within an interdisciplinary team.

He observed:

Collaboration between coaches, athletes, support staff and administrators to achieve performance outcome goals in international sporting competition is deemed important when designing and delivering athlete development programs. In this process, the coach needs to show leadership by clarifying roles, standards, values, and ideals, as well as establishing how the sports program should operate.

As part of his study, Jamie undertook an autoethnographic exploration of the inter-dependency between coach leadership and the effectiveness of strength and conditioning support in high performance. He noted “failing to establish a plan and define roles and responsibilities can result in confusion and conflict”.

Jamie concluded his thesis with this observation that “a deliberate focus on coherent and integrated planning and programing in high performance sport” is required. This appears to resonate with Sam and David’s discussion of decision-making informed by an understanding of bounded reality.

I am convinced that we must find time to discuss these issues within our working environments. We have to deal with the business of everyday activity and find value in a shared understanding in the decisions we make.

In my work with interdiscplinary teams, in addition to humility and deference, we have tried to agree on two basic themes in our interactions:

  • Less is more.
  • What is so important we have to share it?

Photo Credits

Oliver Olah on Unsplash

Sam Robertson (VU)

David Joyce (Twitter)


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