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The theory of antifragility in sport: how to use it?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a writer with no tongue in his pocket. In 2013, he released a provocative book called “Antifragile: The Benefits of Disorder” . In it, he exposes the theory of anti-fragility, and demonstrates how and why it is important to use disasters and chaos to become better and stronger. In his book, he illustrates and describes his concept in modern society, covering economics, medicine, politics, technology and education. Let’s see how this notion of anti-fragility can be applied in sport.

Antifragility, what is it?

In his book, Nicholas Taleb develops a concept he calls antifragile. It highlights the fact that an antifragile system will succeed in strengthening itself and evolving positively in the face of the constraints and trials it faces.

For him, the definition of antifragile is “the ability of a system to take advantage of chaos and use it to become better”.

He distinguishes 4 types of systems:

  • the fragile system: breaks in the face of hardship
  • the robust system: remains solid in the face of challenges
  • the resilient system: bends then regains its original shape in the face of hardship
  • the antifragile system: strengthens thanks to trials

“Antifragility is beyond resilience and toughness. The resilient resists impact and stays the same; antifragile is improving. ”

What’s interesting to understand and remember about this notion of anti-fragility is that it is more than just stepping out of your comfort zone. A system, a company, or even an antifragile person, learns through the obstacles he encounters, overcomes them, even thrives on them, and improves thanks to them!

The human body is a prime example of anti-fragility. Why ? Because when under stress and / or exertion, it gets stronger.

Like what, a little stress in life doesn’t hurt, on the contrary! (Sparingly of course).

The concept of “antifragile” in sport

For athletes who wish to explore and apply this notion of antifragility, it will therefore be necessary to expose your body to stress factors, by making it make complex and unusual movements. You will be able to know where your limits are. The goal is to know your weak points and your imbalances, to seek to compensate for them.

Benjamin Del Moral, Lou Rugby Fitness Coach, wrote an article in 2018 in Reflexion Sport magazine, which is titled: “Building Antifragile Athletes” . As a physical trainer, he explains how it is possible to use this notion developed by Nicholas Taleb with athletes. It exhibits a whole series of tools and accessories that allow athletes to exercise unusual movements, and find themselves in unusual or even unpredictable situations.

The aquabag, the kettlebell, the mini-elastic or even the medicine ball, to name a few, will help the body to become more sensitive and able to correct its mistakes. Movements then become more efficient and positive developments result, such as increased muscle strengthening, better proprioceptive control, maintenance of the internal structure…

This notion of anti-fragility in sport also applies to the personality of athletes. We can list, as for the systems cited by Nicholas Taleb in his book, fragile athletes, or antifragile.

Being anti-fragile is learning from others

A “fragile athlete” does not mean that he will constantly get injured. It goes further than that. He will tend to accept criticism badly, not want to adapt or listen to the advice of others … And will become less efficient, or in any case it will take longer, that’s for sure!

Being anti-fragile is being positive

The slightest annoyance will become an almost insurmountable obstacle for the “fragile”. Rainy weather on race day for example. For an antifragile, this rain will be the opportunity to be more efficient because it will be less hot!

To be anti-fragile, is to feed on change

A “fragile” does not like change. He will stay in his comfort zone. The anti-fragile will take pleasure in the change and the challenges it brings. Any athlete becomes more efficient when exposed to different environments, surfaces, terrains, instruments or even teammates. This lack of “variation” in an athlete can be unproductive, lead to poor performance or worse yet, injury.

To conclude, we can quote the German philosopher Nietze, “What does not kill us, makes us stronger”, which here takes on its full meaning!

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