Unforced Error

"Iatrogenics is when a treatment causes more harm than benefit. As iatros means healer in Greek, the word means “caused by the healer” or “brought by the healer.”  Healer, in this sense, need not mean doctor, but anyone intervening to solve a problem. Nassim Taleb calls these people interventionistas. Often these people come armed with solutions to solve the first order consequences of a decision but create worse second and subsequent order consequences. Luckily, for them at least, they’re never around to see the train wreck they created."

 - https://fs.blog/2013/10/iatrogenics/

The Finnish floorball community was shaken last weekend after the floorball website Paakallo reported about the content of the IFF Central Board meeting held in Helsinki this September. According to the minutes, the IFF would be proposing rule changes regarding international fixtures. A vote would take place in the General Assembly taking place in connection with the WFC in Prague this December

The changes would be regarding the roster sizes, which are to be diminished from the current to 15 players + staff members, The other change would shorten the time of play from the current 3×20 to 3×15. The playing format would be similar to the one which was used at the World Games in Poland in 2017. The polish experience was an important one, which has been used to back up the success of the proposed rules and how this makes floorball more suitable for multisport events. The change proposal also underlines the IFF’s strategy to make floorball an event in the summer Olympics of 2032.

Even though the changes might seem to be small tweaks serving the future popularity of floorball, they in fact are of a rather radical nature. In this post we will go through some important aspects of why these proposals by the IFF are not only irresponsible in the manner these have been prepared, but because eventually they can be hazardous for the future of this sport. This being said even though the workname of this proposal goes by the name “The Future of Floorball”

The problematic aspect regarding this whole process is that the urge to change rules does not arise from the game itself, but from external factors. Especially it stems from the Olympic games strategy and a following assumed growth and expansion. The justification for these changes are not led from the game, but in order to make floorball more suitable for bigger events, which in itself is not a malicious idea.  However the problem with the strategy leading to the Olympic games seem to be based more on assumptions, than a thorough process of evaluating scenarios and possible consequences. Even the scenarios which do not include the future in the Olympic games, which also still seems a quite realistic one. 

In order to rationalize it’s strategy, the IFF has used other team sports as examples of changes being done in order to be an Olympic event. The Secretary General even brought up that FIFA would be thinking about a 2×30 minute playing time. The problem underlies in comparing floorball to other, more established team sports which have the Olympic event status. In many of such cases the IOC needs these events in order to maximise the full potential, whereas floorball seems to be ready to do everything possible to suit the standards dictated by the IOC. Even with the price of compromising the nature of the sport. Whereas for example rugby had its Olympic version, they did not change their game, what in this case floorball would be doing. There is a massive philosophical difference between these two examples.  

In addition to the Olympic fixation, the most problematic aspect of this process lies in that it is lacking both a deeper evaluation of the effects, and a thorough discussion within the floorball community. In this case we are talking about big external factors and the plan is presented to us as if we do not act now, the whole future of the sport is being questioned. This is an interesting point- of- view, especially now when in Finland floorball surpassed the unofficial national sport Ice Hockey in the number of players. In this process the most important thing of all – the game itself- has been completely neglected.

The credo of the Complex Floorball blog is that the nature of this sport is a complex one. The cause-and-effect is not a linear one, result B does not always follow action A. It is this element, which makes floorball extremely vulnerable to even the smallest tweaks in its rules. To change a rule requires a deep and thorough evaluation process regarding the possible consequences it might bring to the nature and the flow of the game. In such a case where the urge comes from external factors, the obvious risk is that a required evaluation process regarding the game is completely lacking. A questionnaire sent to the member nations is not the equivalent of such a process.

As floorball is played widely across the globe, the same challenges and problematics are not shared by all. So in this case we  approach the effects of the proposed rule changes by keeping in mind an image of an international level match, say for example from WFC, where the stakes are high. What effects would the proposed changes bring? What kind of floorball would we then be seeing?

The attraction of floorball lies in its pace, tactical solutions, different game models and in a wide array of skills. A game can be played with many different ways, which gives this sport a wide tactical space to move within. It could be argued, that by diminishing the player number and shortening the playing time we could risk of losing some tactical elements, even essential ones.  For example a high pressing game might need a larger player number, in order for the players to stay more fresh during a game and to execute the chosen tactical approach in the best possible manner. Of course a larger number of players does not correlate with the pressing game, but it gives gives a possibility for this choice of playing. In fact one of the grand old men of Finnish floorball, Tommy Koponen (Coach of SPV), has expressed his will to have more players available, in order to play with 4 lines.

By restricting the number of players, we might in fact diminish some of the tactical solutions, as it would be probable that teams would rather save energy with a lower player number, affecting both, the offensive and defensive moments of the game.  Would we then focus in how to meet the growing physical load, which already functions as a lodestar.  It also must be said, that if a smaller roster would be such a good idea, probably it would already be in use. The question is that does the game call for a such change, do we need a specific rule for this?

Also shortening of the playing time would have its effects on the game itself. The removal of a quarter of the total playing time is not a minor tweak, but a massive change, which can bring drastic consequences. Like in the case of restricted roster sizes, also the shorter playing time could pose a threat to the current wide array of tactical solutions. The shorter playing time would emphasize the significance of one goal, which would possibly lead to games with a smaller result margin – which of course would make the sport artificially look better – but also to a more defensive approach. What would be the incentives for an offensive-minded game plan, if the margin of error is narrowed down? What kind of floorball would we be seeing, especially when the shorter playing time is combined with the smaller roster sizes?

In Finland there have been occasionally discussions how to make floorball  more “entertaining” and more attractive for spectators. Without going deeper to this discussion itself, would these rule changes make floorball more entertaining (still remaining unclear whatever that means), or vice versa.

Alongside the change proposal itself, the most worrying aspects lie in the how’s and why’s this whole procedure has been set in motion.  With all respect to the members of the IFF Central Board, is there enough floorball competence to understand the dynamics of floorball in a specific sense, and how such proposed changes would affect it. This can be seen in the questionnaire form sent to the member states, which is not only completely lacking thoroughness, but also in its very guiding manner to find out the opinion of the member states. Complex Floorball writer Perttu Kytöhonka compared the questionnaire to a situation, where a person is asked whether he would like to be punched in the stomach or in the face.. The member states are not left with a lot of space to move regarding this. Another interesting aspect is regarding who has been responsible for this questionnaire, as it still seems a bit unclear. Does the IFF know what it’s board members are doing?

Why there is such an urge to make massive changes in such a hasty manner?  The strategy of taking part in the Olympic games is rather old one and the world has changed since that. Is the IOC an entity the IFF really needs to attach itself into, especially in such a hazardous manner? Is the game of floorball in some significant ways “broken”, in a way that it is forced to make radical changes? Or is the shine of the Olympic altar so bright, that this beautiful game must be sacrificed on that?

Mikael de Anna (@MikaeldeAnna) 

Perttu Kytöhonka (@PKytohonka

Antti Hänninen (@AjHanninen)

Miika Peltonen (@miikapeltonen)