Is teaching and learning padel linear or non-linear

In this post we are going to talk about the non-linear factor of padel in order to understand how similar inputs may have very different outputs. It will help you to address whatever situation you face in the court in the short or long-term.

In the linear world we know that X causes Y. for example, every time I press a letter in my laptop, I see it on the screen. Humans tend to think in a linear way, we try to find what the consequences of doing X are or what the causes that Y happens were. But this is how simple or complicated structures work, for example machines, but human beings work differently.

Teaching and learning have been treated as linear system

Traditionally, teaching a sport has been seen as a linear model. We apply the same inputs to every player thinking that we should get the same output, X causes Y. However, as we commented in our post "Padel is a complex system", the world and padel are complex. For example, in a padel training, what causes what? it is difficult to isolate or reduce inputs and outputs. Am I helping or hurting? this afternoon, the same physical load can be a benefit for one player and an injury for another. 

One “technical” tip that causes some success in a specific action, is the actual reason for that success? what about technical feedback? the same “technical” instruction (input) might not have effect (output 1) on John, will be fabulous (output 2) for Ana and cause "paralysis by analysis” (output 3) for Thomas.

Similarly, when we talk about the learning-process, you can see a very clear non-linearity for the majority of the player. There can be an exponential learning in one month followed by a valley or even decrease in the performance, and then, if things are being doing properly, another peak. The exception are those players who are improving in a steady and constant way.

We can see in all these cases that same inputs may generate different internal workings –that we do not know– causing different outputs. This makes us escape from correlations, causalities or simple linear assumptions such as “X causes Y”. 

In padel training, we should analyze every context with a critical point of view and try to not fall into simple assumptions. As Richard P. Feynman says… “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."


Do we play padel as we live?

Padel is a process integrated in life, so, it is impossible to understand one without taking into account the other. We don’t live, stop and then, play padel; we play padel as a part of life and as we live. All the values, personality, aims... that one can have along his/her life, play an important role in the padel court. Padel is a process of cooperation-competition governed by principles that also govern other processes in many other life levels (social, economical, cellular, molecular... and so on).

Limitations (constraints) affect our game

A limitation (constraint) is a condition that restricts some kind of behaviors. For example: physical condition, weight, values, personality are one type of condition (organismic), there are other environmental conditions that are external to the body such as social values, gravity, a game situation, weather, racket, ball... and so on. The actions during a padel game appear because of this organism-environment relationship that shapes the behaviour at every moment.

Let´s start with the values which are organismic limitations that act at higher levels but also long times scales: how you think influences every aspect of your life, and it is very difficult to change it over night (it influences decades). Because of that, they are a slow-changing constraint. On the other hand, a position of an opponent in the court is an environmental constraint that acts at lower levels and short timescales: it just influences one or two actions during milliseconds or seconds, and it doesn’t have a big impact on the game (neither on your life). These two kinds of constraints are not isolated, but integrated: your values influence your actions but, does one action influence and change the values? It is much difficult. This is the circular causality property of the complex systems that explains that is more effective to intervene in the slow-changing constraints.

The same slow-changing constraints that affect a person's daily life also influence how (s)he behaves on the padel court. A player that is constrained by the need to have control and consciousness of everything (s)he does, probably will play each shot and ball with intention knowing why because (s)he will feel the same need in the court. In the same vein, one person that is used to work under high-stressful conditions won’t have the same feeling in tough competition moments than one who is constrained by the “fear of losing” and is insecure in his/her day to day life. Similarly, a person who has the desire to stand out and be recognized at the school, university or job, probably, when (s)he enters the padel court will behave same way, looking for external approval, concerned with performing spectacular "highlights" movements instead of having a functional behavior.

Coaches need to know the person inside the player

A coach needs to understand why players behave as they do to be able to intervene optimally. To generate significative learning processes we can focus on fast-changing behaviors to influence specific actions, but we will achieve more significant effects by influencing the slow-changing ones (also, it will be more difficult) because we will produce a cascade effect in all the lower levels: if a player changes his/her personality, values or objectives: his/her behaviour in life (and in the court) will change.

Understanding how slow-changing constraints work makes us to be involved actively in the padel court but also in life. We can help a player that is insecure in the padel court, but always taking into account that this fact has to be worked a lot out of it. The more influence we gain in slow-changing constraints, the more meaningful learnings our players will achieve.

Padel is a complex system


Let´s start trying to define what complexity means in the padel context. If you are used to the traditional teaching methodologies, the way to explain padel is from analyzing its simple parts without taking into account how they can interact and create new abilities. However, complexity science puts emphasis on the whole system and its environment or context. So a complex system can be defined as a system composed of interconnected components to achieve a specific goal and from the interaction of the parts the final result is better than the sum of its parts.

Padel and complexity

But…what relationship does this have with our sport? A padel player has his own components (mental, coordination or technique, cognitive or tactics, conditional or physical, bioenergetic… and so on) and we should train it in an integrated way because with their interactions we will reach new skills and qualities. That is why the result is more than the sum of its parts. As Antonio Barbosa says: “It is known that water (H2O) is an essential means to extinguish the fire. However, if we separate its components: hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O), any of these substances not only do not turn it off but that makes it even more incandescent.”

Padel players, your team (you and your partner), your rivals...even padel itself are complex systems. If we don´t have this in mind we are losing the key factor, the components of a padel player are interacting every time and the better coordinated they are, the better performance. At the same time, the padel player interacts with the environment: court (fast, slow...), weather (sun, wind, humidity…), the relation with the partner and the opponents, the balls state, the type of racket… but also others unspecific like the mind state, the stress, the nutritional intake… This makes every padel match different.

Example of complexity in World Padel Tour

For example, in the level of the game style, if the court is slow and there is a lot of humidity, the ball will bounce slower, with different trajectories and it can change the dynamic of the match incredibly. We can see it in World Padel Tour: Vigo and Santander Opens had a very different style of play than Madrid or Valladolid tournaments because of the environment conditions. This affects the tactics and shots used, the type of strength applied, the energy consumed or it can change the mental state of the players with less favorable skills in these courts… among other things.

For a long time, we have been separating padel training in small parts and practising each one isolated; if we are willing to change our point of view, we can improve the training efficiency and quality. If we want to improve padel player performance, we should look at how we work: individualize the technique training to the main characteristics of each padel player, work the strength to the requirements of the sport on the gym but also on the court, integrate all the components and work on them in an holistic way… among many others.