This paper identifies key properties of expertise in sport predicated on the performer-environment relationship. Weaknesses of traditional approaches to expert performance, which uniquely focus on the performer and the environment separately, are highlighted by an ecological dynamics perspective. Key properties of expert movement systems include 'multi- and meta-stability', 'adaptive variability', 'redundancy', 'degeneracy' and the 'attunement to affordances'. Empirical research on these expert system properties indicates that skill acquisition does not emerge from the internal representation of declarative and procedural knowledge, or the imitation of expert behaviours to linearly reduce a perceived 'gap' separating movements of beginners and a putative expert model. Rather, expert performance corresponds with the ongoing co-adaptation of an individual's behaviours to dynamically changing, interacting constraints, individually perceived and encountered. The functional role of adaptive movement variability is essential to expert performance in many different sports (involving individuals and teams; ball games and outdoor activities; land and aquatic environments). These key properties signify that, in sport performance, although basic movement patterns need to be acquired by developing athletes, there exists no ideal movement template towards which all learners should aspire, since relatively unique functional movement solutions emerge from the interaction of key constraints.
Gaze and movement behaviors of association football goalkeepers were compared under two video simulation conditions (i.e., verbal and joystick movement responses) and three in situ conditions (i.e., verbal, simplified body movement, and interceptive response). The results showed that the goalkeepers spent more time fixating on information from the penalty kick taker's movements than ball location for all perceptual judgment conditions involving limited movement (i.e., verbal responses, joystick movement, and simplified body movement). In contrast, an equivalent amount of time was spent fixating on the penalty taker's relative motions and the ball location for the in situ interception condition, which required the goalkeepers to attempt to make penalty saves. The data suggest that gaze and movement behaviors function differently, depending on the experimental task constraints selected for empirical investigations. These findings highlight the need for research on perceptualmotor behaviors to be conducted in representative experimental conditions to allow appropriate generalization of conclusions to performance environments.
In physical education, the Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) pedagogical strategy has attracted significant attention from theoreticians and educators for allowing the development of game education through a tactic-to-skill approach involving the use of modified games. However, some have proposed that as an educational framework, it lacks adequate theoretical grounding from a motor learning perspective to empirically augment its perceived effectiveness. The authors examine the literature base providing the theoretical underpinning for TGfU and explore the potential of a nonlinear pedagogical framework, based on dynamical systems theory, as a suitable explanation for TGfU’s effectiveness in physical education. Nonlinear pedagogy involves manipulating key task constraints on learners to facilitate the emergence of functional movement patterns and decision-making behaviors. The authors explain how interpreting motor learning processes from a nonlinear pedagogical framework can underpin the educational principles of TGfU and provide a theoretical rationale for guiding the implementation of learning progressions in physical education.
Performance analysis is a subdiscipline of sports sciences and one-approach, notational analysis, has been used to objectively audit and describe behaviours of performers during different subphases of play, providing additional information for practitioners to improve future sports performance. Recent criticisms of these methods have suggested the need for a sound theoretical rationale to explain performance behaviours, not just describe them. The aim of this article was to show how ecological dynamics provides a valid theoretical explanation of performance in team sports by explaining the formation of successful and unsuccessful patterns of play, based on symmetry-breaking processes emerging from functional interactions between players and the performance environment. We offer the view that ecological dynamics is an upgrade to more operational methods of performance analysis that merely document statistics of competitive performance. In support of our arguments, we refer to exemplar data on competitive performance in team sports that have revealed functional interpersonal interactions between attackers and defenders, based on variations in the spatial positioning of performers relative to each other in critical performance areas, such as the scoring zones. Implications of this perspective are also considered for practice task design and sport development programmes.
The analysis of variability both within and between performers can reveal important information about how athletes satisfy situational constraints. Transitory changes in the basketball free-throw shot were examined across different stages in skill development. Six female basketball players were selected, representing a range of playing expertise (pretest: 0-90% baskets scored). Each participant was video recorded performing 30 shots. Contrary to predictions, there was not a clear pattern of a reduction in trajectory variability with increasing skill level. However, improvements in skill level were associated with an increasing amount of intertrial movement consistency from the elbow and wrist joints. It is suggested that the angular motions of the elbow and wrist joints were compensated for each other toward the end of each throw to adapt to subtle changes in release parameters of the ball.
Physical literacy (PL) has become a major focus of physical education, physical activity and sports promotion worldwide. PL is a multifaceted conceptualisation of the skills required to fully realise potentials through embodied experience. Substantial financial investments in PL education by governments are underpinned by a wide range of anticipated benefits, including expectations of significant future savings to healthcare, improved physical and psychological well-being of the population, increased work-force productivity and raised levels of expertise in sport and exercise participation. However, disappointingly, scientific evidence showing the efficacy of PL interventions to successfully meet such high expectation is limited. We suggest that contradictions in research findings are due largely to limitations in movement assessment batteries and consequent discrepancies between measurements used to assess the immediate outcomes of PL programmes. Notably, there is no robust empirical tool for evidencing skill learning in the physical movement component of PL, education and this presents a serious limitation to the design of, and claims that can be made for, such interventions. Considering the parameters of proficient PL skills and the limitations of current evaluation instruments, possible future directions for developing empirical measures of PL movement skills are presented.
This paper builds on recent theoretical concerns regarding traditional conceptualizations of the skill acquisition process. The implications for the process of practice in sport contexts are explored with reference to the information-processing approach to motor behaviour and the newer ecological paradigm. Issues are raised with current principles of practice based on traditional theoretical ideas. A practice strategy that gives greater weight to the guided exploration of the practice workspace jointly defined by the properties of the individual's subsystems, the specific task and the environment is advocated. Such a constraints-led perspective supersedes previous distinctions between rudimentary and voluntary skills. Sports scientists, coaches, teachers and movement rehabilitation therapists are invited to review current practices in the light of recent theoretical advances from the ecological perspective.
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