If you have followed even a fraction of some of the thoughts that we typically share here at Emergence, you likely have frequently come across some awfully important concepts to us. These may include a scope of analysis being on the mutual, reciprocal performer-environment relationship as well as the coupling of perception and action processes underpinning the movement problem solving of athletes in the contextual world of dynamic, complex, sport. Put simply, at Emergence, we want to ensure that we always ‘respect the problem’ when we fixate our explanatory lens on the coordination, control, and organization of movement skill in the sport.
Simply put, we encourage all within the movement community to realize: the problem being presented to an athlete in sport is always talking to him/her…and the key lies in determining what it is saying. Obviously, it (the contextual problem) doesn’t literally ‘speak’ to a player, but the problem does interact with them, and this interaction takes place in the form of the information and energy transactions exchanged between the problem and the solver.
It is here then, in this information exchange, that we find one of the most vital concepts of movement science. Matter of fact, if we are ever going to understand the movement problem-solving processes of an athlete in a sporting environment to the degree that we personally desire to, we must first be willing to deeply examine the information which is exchanged between the problem and the solver as they interact with one another.
Because of this importance, one of our main priorities during the content creation that went into Underpinnings was to ensure that when we covered any topics related to information, that we felt that we absolutely did it justice. Particularly, when movement professionals have completed the course, we want them to be able to sufficiently ask and attempt to answer key questions about the role of information in channeling the movement problem-solution dynamics that witness unfolding in sport: What is the nature, the range, and the bandwidth of information existent in the problems of the player’s world during that specific play?
- What are the potential specifying informational variables?
- How is the athlete perceiving (i.e. picking up and detecting) the specifying information?
- How is the individual utilizing that perceived information in the on-going regulation and organization of his movement? Specifically, what is the role of the information for the guiding of the coordination and control of his/her movement behaviors?
As we uncovered key ideas that could help us address these questions within Underpinnings, we employed an Ecological Dynamics framework in viewing the context of information in these problem-solution dynamics. Namely, concepts such as direct perception, perceptual attunement, affordances, representative learning, and perception-action coupling, were at the forefront of our discussions throughout the course.
Why the need for this ‘information-based’ approach?
At the heart of this Ecological Dynamics, the framework will exist a more systems-oriented line of thinking where we will study the relationships between component parts of the systems at play and how they configure together to form a whole rather than being examined piece by piece (Clarke and Crossland, 1985). Furthermore, in a tightly coupled unified system, the flow of some resources through the system is the primary integration factor that allows it to act as a whole (systemsinnovation.io). Of course, when it comes to movement problem-solving in sport, information is that integration factor and it’s why it’s as equally powerful for us to study as it is for the athlete to intimately connect to.
Concepts that make up Ecological Psychology take this another step further and begin to apply it in the study of human movement behavior in sport. At its most basic level, these related ideas would state that “the on-going control and regulation of movement is predicated on the role of information that emerges from the individual-environment system to guide movement activity (Seifert and Davids, 2015).”
If you have ever even remotely studied kinesiology, motor behavior, motor control, or motor learning, you will certainly have heard of information. However, what it is comprised of and what its role will be in perceptual-motor control and behavior, will be entirely dependent on the theoretical and conceptual lens that you choose to look at the movement behavior through (ranging from a traditional ‘information-processing’ approach to the more contemporary, yet ‘information-based,’ ecological approach).
“Information in the ecological approach refers to specificity between the structured energy distributions available to a perceptual system and the environmental and movement properties causally responsible for that structure (Turvey, 1990).” What Michael Turvey is alluding to here is really the depth, meaning, and richness of the patterns of stimulus energy (both internal taking place within the human movement system, as well as external in the outside world) that could be picked up and detected by the performer (aka perceived), all of which will directly specify action-relevant opportunities.
Giving the idea of information greater practical relevance in the study of movement behavior in sport is the concept of Information-movement coupling which is “the development of successful functional relations between movement and information in a specific performance context (Anson, Elliott, and Davids, 2005).” However, in my mind, it goes beyond this, at least as we continue to analyze, understand, and explain how information-movement coupling lives and breathes in the sporting context.
Essentially, for me, the information-movement coupling is where an individual is able to more effectively utilize the information present in a problem to support the movement solution which is organized (in my view, the movement solution is a functional behavioral unit which is underpinned by the intertwined processes of perception, cognition, and action). And that is exactly where our scale of analysis and the relevance of our investigation of information will be heading forward in Underpinnings and other educational courses we develop and deliver.
How does the performer connect to this information?
Ultimately, how an individual connects to the information is vital to the movement which will be organized. In this view, the information in our contextual world is deep, rich, and contains everything we need to interact with the problem without much need for ‘processing’ in the traditional sense.
However, the information is only meaningful relevant to the perceiver’s goals and intentions (their aims to act in a given way in relation to the problem being faced). Thus, we must attempt to understand the information from the perspective of what the athlete is aiming to do (as well as what options exist presented by the landscape of the affordances present). The most optimal information to use (which will specify one’s movement actions) will be different depending on the contextual situation but also be due to inter-individual differences because of the athlete’s intrinsic dynamics (i.e. their movement toolbox) and unique affordances for action (and their effectivities).
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention here the words of Ecological Psychology innovator, J.J. Gibson, which can serve to prime your thought processes as you embark on where the information emphasis in your learning journey may flow. Gibson poignantly stated, “We perceive to act and we act to perceive.” Meaning, perception guides action and action generates additional perceptual information; the two are in a relationship of constant circular causality. Overall, it is through this manner that we can start to investigate and assess the behavioral dynamics of that functional movement solution (i.e. how perceptions, cognitions, and actions are coupled together at that moment in time).
It is under this lens then, that we can begin to obtain an understanding regarding the information the athlete ‘should be’ picking-up and detecting in his environment to carry out those intentions. Of course, it is intuitively obvious to acknowledge that there is also an abundance of information available in our world. We are truly inundated with it and it can become overwhelming if we were to try to attend to it all (besides, it’s impossible to do so anyway).
Because there is so much potential information available, it starts to point to the importance of the performer’s ability to become highly sensitive to the most specifying information that is available in any respective movement problem. Known as ‘perceptual attunement’ (Jacobs and Michaels, 2007), this sensitivity will allow the performer to attend to the ‘right’ information and at the ‘right’ time. This characterization of right versus wrong when it comes to perceptual skill organization is an under-discussed and often misunderstood topic though. Throughout Underpinnings, we spend a significant amount of time discussing exactly that (optimization or correctness) from a practical perspective.
At Emergence, we want to take you on a journey where we, together, can put ourselves in the athlete’s movement system and connect ourselves to the information present in the problem through the qualitative analysis of his/her respective perception, cognition, and action processes which underpin the self-organized movement behaviors that we are witnessing.
At the end of the day, what we must remind ourselves constantly is: Information is power! Hopefully, I was able to highlight not only that fact throughout this blog piece but also energize you all to lock arms with us in the journey of emphasizing its understanding in highly practical fashions in our investigation and explanations of sport movement behavior. Though we took a focus in Underpinnings to unravel ideas around information and specifically, information-movement coupling, if it’s a topic that invigorates you as much as it does us, let me recommend just a few additional places for you to dive into:
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some things that we at Emergence are trying to do to assist you in this growth journey right now, as well. If you are interested in utilizing this time to dive into our content and courses, we want to extend an offer of 25% OFF (till April 15th, 2020). To take us up on this, just use the code “BEADAPTABLE25” when checking out, and you should be good to go!
Additionally, we are making all our upcoming Movement Meet-up Calls free for everyone, (usually it is exclusive only to those who are enrolled in one of our courses) who are interested in joining us. We feel as though grasping onto fellowship with those across the movement community is the best way for us all to adapt accordingly.
All in all, we wish you and yours an abundance of health and wellness through this trying time.
Co-Director of Education
For more reading:
- Gibson, J. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, 1979
- Michaels, C and Carello, C. Direct Perception, 1981
- Fajen, B, Riley, M, and Turvey, M. Information, affordances, and the control of action in sport. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 2009
- Gray, Rob. The Perception-Action Podcast.