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The Infinite Game: The Ultimate Irony?

As a long-term advocate of sustainable philosophy, principles and practices in sport, I have been watching the infinite game conversation with keen interest. With the ‘early adopters’ in full flow, The Infinite Game has been thrust into the headlights. Podcasts, websites, podcasts and more podcasts – the infinite game is everywhere! What concerns me is the why (I’m hoping it’s not just a case of Simon (Sinek) says…) and the how? I’m not sure lessons have been learned from other meaningful ideas, such as mindset, that began with great intention but in the rush to adopt have struggled with implementation and impact.

We are running the risk of the infinite game being the next trend in sport and PE that starts with great intention, but impact is never achieved due to the implementation challenges that need addressing. I’m concerned that if this comes and goes what are we going to be left with?

Not only have I been an infinite practitioner and advocate of the approach for over 20 years, but as a performance psychologist I’m often on the backend dealing with the damage done by more finite approaches and practices. I want longer-term sustainable learning environments to prevail. I really do. It’s in all of our interests. But we need to ask and answer a number of critical questions and challenges if it is going to be a long-term success. That is, to ensure a meaningful and successful path of intention to impact though implementation.

Critical questions about implementation of a more infinite approach that need addressing include:

  • What is the evidence for an infinite approach? Simon says isn’t going to be enough to persuade key stakeholders to commit to long-term strategy.

  • The principles of the infinite game are not new, other long term athlete centric models exist. Does one need to prevail over all others, or do we need to take the essence from approaches with the same aims?

  • How do you change the finite culture? As outlined the infinite game actually isn’t new. The principles have been used for a long time by highly successful practitioners (e.g., John Wooden), but the finite game has still come to dominate. Finite people and cultures aren’t going to just disappear. They have a strong presence and have done for a long time. Preaching to the converted is comforting but will never make the infinite game prevail.

  • What happens to finite cultures? Do we contend there is nothing positive about a finite approach and we going to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water? Is there a transition from one to another or do we think people will adopt a short sharp change?

  • What happens to the infinite game at those critical moments when it meets the finite game (think losing, last 10 minutes, coach ‘needs’ to win)? We don’t want an infinite game approach to be perceived as important until the finite game is more important. The “I know but…” and it matters until it doesn't are very powerful.

  • What metrics will we use to measure the success of an infinite approach and how do we get these agreed by the key stakeholders? Without this the strong metrics of the finite game will likely endure.

  • How does an infinite approach sit in PE with a national curriculum and teachers who lack autonomy and operate in an outcome metric education system?

  • Is it just sport and PE who will adopt an infinite approach and if so, how does the lack of consistency is a young person’s life marry that division? Is it a game of tug of war? Short term world messaging is powerful and prevalent.

I’ve written previously about my concerns regarding the fire extinguisher culture. The infinite game is not, and should not be a fire extinguisher, but in the hands of firefighters it will quickly become one, just as mindset (and grit…) did. The evidence for a more infinite approach is compelling. But to gain the impact needed and avoid the ultimate irony, we need much more thought to the implementation. Before we fail to fight the fire with another fire extinguisher which will be abandoned in the not-too-distant future. I hope you will join me in the conversation (probably podcast!) to avoid this.

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