The ecological dynamics framework sustains a scientific approach to studying the behaviors of neurobiological systems, especially processes of action, perception, and cognition (Seifert & Davids, 2015). It is a framework that appreciates the whole athlete, and the environment where the interactions occur. There is a reciprocal relationship between the two. The ecological dynamics framework acknowledges ideas from ecological psychology and dynamical or nonlinear systems. The dynamical systems side addresses the emergence of coordination tendencies that exist between and within components and levels of complex neurobiological systems (Seifert & Davids, 2015). Dynamical systems theory harnesses ideas of complexity and self-organization. The ecological psychology side can be thought of as the functional act of picking up information to use for regulating actions (Chow et al. 2016).

Information is omnipresent, and there is a circular link between information and movement. Information specifies invitations or opportunities for action (affordances) that are available for pick-up in a performance context. These invitations are athlete-specific, and they emerge and decay rapidly in sports. Think about a gap that opens for a running back in football, but then closes just as quickly as it opened. It is unique to each athlete because of each individual’s action capabilities. The performer-environment relationship is reciprocal, and the information that emerges between the two is viewed to guide movement activity. The confluence of the constraints shapes the movement solution that emerges. Constraints are classified as the task (rules, equipment, boundaries, etc.), environment (light, humidity, temperature, social expectations, etc.), and individual (height, weight, emotional and motivational levels, etc.). The landscape of constraints is undulating, so it is important to consider that a change in constraints may lead to changes in the movement solution that emerges. 

Under an ecological dynamics framework, athletes and sports teams are considered complex adaptive systems. Additionally, proponents of an ecological dynamics framework view learning to occur by continuously solving movement problems and not performing repetition by rote. This is crucial if coaches expect athletes to adapt their skills to different problems they encounter in sports. Finally, under an ecological dynamics framework, the athlete-environment relationship is viewed as the appropriate scale of analysis for studying emergent behavior. As a coach, we can design-in relevant invitations to the practice sessions if we study this relationship.

Hopefully, this gives you a glimpse of what ecological dynamics is, or that it serves as a quick refresher. As of now, we have used ecological dynamics as the vehicle to communicate highly pertinent movement skill ideas, and next week, we’re going to propose a few areas that ecological dynamics still needs to answer. We think you will enjoy the questions we hope to help answer, and the direction we are heading as a company!

Tyler Yearby 

Co-Director of Education 

For more reading:

  1. Chow, J, Davids, K, Button, C, and Renshaw, I. Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition, 2016
  2. Seifert, L, and Davids, K. Ecological Dynamics: A theoretical framework for understanding sport performance, physical education and physical activity. CS-DC ’15 World e-conference, 2015
  3. Underpinnings: Concepts that live and breathe within an ecological dynamics framework. Emergence (2019)