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