Category: Theory


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Can we teach creativity ? (Part 1)

We tend to think of creativity as the generation or apparition of new ideas, which can then be put into action. I call this “ideation”. This view of creativity is probably so strong because we take our paradigmatic examples of creativity in specific domains like scientific or technological innovation, writing novels or creating music. But when we focus on activities that are not usually framed as being purely intellectual, like parkour, this two step process, inventing ideas in your head, then applying them to the world, might not work that well. It misses the tight link between action and perception, the direct interaction of the body and the environment.

Here, I want to pursue this line of thinking, which is very relevant for teaching creativity in sports and physical activities. I will argue that we need to move a few steps away from the ideation approach if we want to understand motor creativity. Using the frameworks of ecological-dynamics, we can understand how using constraints can benefit creativity. In part 2, I will explore a few methods and principles to promote the emergence of creative motor solutions.

Why we need variability of movement

When it comes to producing skillful sport performance, we tend to think that we need to achieve a very consistent way of moving. In that perspective, less movement variability means better performance. This comes from a common assumption that consistent performance is an essential element of skill. But there are two components of performance: the movement, and the outcome. Traditional teaching methods focus on the movement, with ideal patterns that have to be learned, rehearsed, and reproduced. We therefore tend to treat deviations as errors, that come from some kind of lack of control. Here we will challenge these assumptions by focusing on the consistency of outcome. We will argue that variability is a necessary component of movement, allowing for better control, adaptability and learning. If we want consistent outcomes, we need variability of movement.

Self-organisation and attractors

In this article, we will be focusing on two key concepts of ecological-dynamics: self-organisation, and the attractor landscape.

As we have shown previously, ecological-dynamics understands our bodies as complex systems with numerous interacting parts (or degrees of freedom). Self-organisation means that the parts of the system have a tendency to adjust and adapt to each other1, creating patterns without the need for a hierarchical system of control, like the brain controlling every single part of our body. Order therefore is emergent, and does not require the micromanagement of all degrees of freedom.

  1. Davids K., Button Chris et Bennett Simon, Dynamics of skill acquisition: a constraints-led approach, Champaign, IL, Human Kinetics, 2008.[]

The dynamical systems approach

Dynamical systems theory is a branch of mathematics used to describe complex dynamical systems. These are systems with multiple parts that interact with each other and change over time. Examples can range from living things like a colony of ants to inorganic systems like Earth’s climate. Ecological-dynamics adds these mathematical insights to ecological psychology in order to understand how we control our movements, focusing on the interactions between the body and environment instead of reducing it to a top-down control from our brain. In this article, we will try to understand our bodies as complex dynamical systems, while not going into the details of the complex equations.

Introduction to Ecological Dynamics

Ecological Dynamics is a scientific framework that studies the behaviour neurobiological systems. This involves how living organisms form processes of action, perception and cognition. It is a very holistic approach to studying behaviour, as it considers both the living organism, as well as the environment that it relies and acts upon.

Ecological Dynamics (ED) is a framework that finds its roots in two other fields of science: The psychological school of thought called Ecological Psychology and the mathematical approach called Dynamical Systems Theory. Having a brief understanding of both theories is necessary to understand why they compliment each other so well, and ultimately it allows us to understand what Ecological Dynamics is and why it is relevant in sports coaching, including Parkour.

Affordances: Perception and Action

”The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill. The verb to afford is found in the dictionary, the noun affordance is not. I have made it up. I mean by it something that refers to both the environment and the animal in a way that no existing term does. It implies the complementarity of the animal and the environment.”

Gibson (1979, p.127)

One of the most widely used theories from the Ecological Psychology framework is that of affordances. In short, affordances are action possibilities that the environment provides us. Affordances made their way from Ecological Psychology into various fields like sports coaching and movement sciences, to product design and artificial intelligence. Even people disagreeing with Ecological Psychology and direct perception have jumped on the Affordance wagon. What exactly is the concept of Affordances, why is it so widely applied and what does it offer the world of sports coaching?

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