When one begins to adopt many of the ideas which interact to underpin an Ecological Dynamics framework to viewing movement behavior, many themes tend to emerge which require one to see the world of movement skill differently. These conceptual ideas *typically* include information-movement coupling/perception-action coupling, affordances, representative task design, a constraints-led approach, and the performer-environment relationship (performer = organism, or specifically in sport; the athlete).

On the latter, this renewed emphasis on the mutual and reciprocal relationship between the athlete and their environment, often begins to become a main focal point (or at least it should be!). Quite frankly, if you don’t place your scale of analysis and practice here, you’re simply not adopting or applying an ecological approach.

As Duarte Araujo and Keith Davids (2009) stated, “In human behavior, the act of doing never occurs in a vacuum. To do is to always do something somewhere.” Thus, when viewed through an ecological perspective, movement skill execution itself is really as much about that somewhere (aka the environment) as it is about that something (aka the movement skill). Or, said another way, it’s about establishing a more functional relationship between one’s self and their environment (Jacobs & Michaels, 2007).

It could be said that obtaining a more functional relationship then with the environment first begins with enhancing both the awareness of the environment as well as the awareness of oneself in the environment.

So, practically-speaking, just how does one go about doing this – specifically in guiding one’s athletes in the facilitation of this enhanced awareness of the environment?

1. Focus externally – here, I don’t just mean utilizing an ‘external focus of attention’ instead of an ‘internal focus of attention’ when moving or executing a task (though that can also be beneficial and relevant too). Instead, I am talking about starting a session with allowing the athletes to pick-up more information from the outside world – even the information which may not be specifying for enabling the channeling of their movement solutions later on. I have found that requiring athletes to become more aware through picking up just general information out in the world (say when they’re warming up or getting ready to train) will prime a more sensitive frame of mind for the entire session and ultimately, the detection of more relevant specifying information.

2. Keep em coupled – as in the player and the environment…through the problem and the solution, the information and the movement, and the perception and the actions. When the activities which an athlete will be engaged in interacting with contains truly alive movement problems (which are complex, dynamic, and emergent), requiring the composition of an integrated movement solution (through perceptual attunement to the information present within the contextual world and the adaptability of the actions to functionally fit the opportunities within the problem), the athlete will obviously need to constantly be in a heightened state of awareness.

3. Clear one’s mind – It may sound like a bit of new-age recommendation to say this, but with the overstimulated systems that most athletes are operating with these days (due to all kinds of things vying for their attention), placing the perceptions and cognitions on a sort of constant informational overload, it’s highly unlikely that the athlete will be able to attend to, and become aware of, everything that is needed in the environment in order to most functionally coordinate and control their movement skills. Thus, it’s almost imperative that athletes (maybe you as the coach too!) attempt to be proactive in clearing one’s mind before beginning the session. For some, this mind clearing can take shape in anything from driving in silence in the car on the way to the training/practice environment, to practicing breath-work throughout the day, to morning and/or nightly meditation sessions.

The recommendations provided above are not all-inclusive – though they come from my personal experience, it’s all simply meant to be a fire-starter for you, and the athletes you partner with, to get started in understanding the importance of becoming more aware of the environment if you ever hope to maximize the skill execution which takes place there! It’s up to you (and the athlete) to find an individualized connection to the environment in your own authentic fashion. However, by attempting to do so, you will start to see athletes experiencing the world in a much deeper and richer fashion.

I would be amiss if I didn’t draw your attention to something in the environment (the pun is intended) before I leave you today. As you may potentially be aware, two years ago, our team at Emergence made our presence felt by launching our first-ever course, Underpinnings. Some of you who are reading this may actually own access to the course and have interacted with its contents quite deeply (thank you for that!). Others yet out there may have actually tried to purchase it over the last year, and you actually were not able to due to it being temporarily closed (sorry about that!).

Well, in case you missed it, we are re-releasing Underpinnings coming up on August 9th, 2021. However, this time, it will include an additional 60 minute addendum where myself along with fellow Emergence team members, Tyler Yearby and Rich White, got together to discuss where the movement community has come over the last two years since the initial recording of the course back in 2019, while also addressing many of the pertinent concepts which we felt needed to be touched on a bit more, and answer some of the main questions we have heard from those out there over the years.

I would invite you to pick-up Underpinnings today if you haven’t yet! I promise that you will not be disappointed and it will end up allowing you to become more intimately aware of the movement behavior in your environment immediately!

Learn more about Underpinnings.

Shawn is the Co-Director of Education & Co-Founder of Emergence. He developed content for the educational brand, Movement Mastery, from 2014 till the formation of Emergence, with the sole purpose of helping to enable a deeper understanding of the processes involved in the acquisition of more masterful movement for athletes in sport. Shawn has served primarily as a Personal Performance Advisor & Movement Skill Acquisition Coach for National Football League (NFL) players since 2008, working with approximately 12 players each year.