Over the beginning of 2022, it seems as though there have been a plethora of activities being shared across social media circles, which are purporting the use of an ecological approach through constraints, to enhance coordination, self-organization, and problem-solving of athletes.

Being that Emergence is sometimes tagged in these types of posts, there are times, with certain individuals, where we do believe in and back what is being done and what is shown. Then, there are other times where…well, let’s just say…we feel as though the individual is misguided and doesn’t understand an ecological approach very deeply. In fact, we must admit: there are certainly some instances (okay, many instances) where we can do nothing more than shake our heads at what is being shown.

 It seems to be becoming more en vogue to claim that one adopts and uses an ecological dynamics rationale. This can be both good and bad!

It’s good that more people are learning some of the language while having their interest sparked about a rationale that offers a different conceptualization of, and path to enhancing, movement skills for sport.

And it’s bad in that more confusion is almost guaranteed to run rampant across the movement skill community, which is an issue if we collectively hope to guide the development of adept movers in sport. Ideas at the heart of ecological dynamics are at risk of getting a bad name, and more importantly, athletes are stripped of their ability to actively self-regulate (Woods et al., 2020) themselves in alive movement problems. These misunderstandings and misinterpretations can be detrimental to the skill adaptation process. 

Thus, being that we are firm believers and proponents of many things ecologically-related, we felt it was necessary to elaborate as to what it means, to us, for something to check the boxes on being ecologically driven!

1. Ask yourself a question: What is coordination?

Or to add, when an athlete moves, what exactly are they coordinating, and in relation to what? Let’s take it one step further; would you say coordination is highly context-dependent where movement strategies that emerge are linked to the affordances (i.e., opportunities for action) perceived and utilized in contextual situations?

2. Everyone is using a constraints-led approach!

Here’s a newsflash for some of y’all: if you are training or coaching, you are using and manipulating constraints. Now, some are utilizing a constraints-led approach much more purposefully, of course. The question you should be asking is, what does purposeful constraint manipulation mean? As a designer of practice tasks, one-way coaches can help expand the athlete’s movement skill-set is by constraining to afford versus assigning behavior. In many cases, athletes are not detecting key affordances; coaches can help inform their search by illuminating or magnifying opportunities for (inter)actions (Renshaw et al., 2019).

For example, if a coach has identified through in-person and/or video analysis that a player in basketball struggles to find open teammates when driving the lane, then the numerical relations can be manipulated, giving the offensive team an advantage (e.g., 3v2), nudging the ball handler to search for ways exploit the open player. Additionally, an athlete’s search process can be guided by educating their intentions and attention more explicitly, such as by saying, “show me how you can use your teammates to create space to free yourself for a shot.” Another way to use instructional constraints is using questions to guide their search: “How many ways do you think you can exploit the defense when you find several defenders collapsing on you in the paint?”

3. BUT, just because it’s a constraints-led approach, doesn’t mean one is utilizing an ecological dynamics framework!

Behavior is an ecological event. Simply put, to adopt an ecological approach on either investigating that behavior or attempting to facilitate more functional expressions of it, one must adopt the athlete-environment relationship (and the mutual, reciprocal nature of it) as the scope of analysis. 

In conclusion

Now, we didn’t mean to come across too harshly in calling anyone out here. We obviously could’ve named some names and pointed to highly specific examples. However, we didn’t want to do exactly that. Instead, our intentions are to help everyone to become better equipped to assess any training or practice activities they see, to determine how ecologically driven it really is!

This is probably as good of a time as any to drop a cheap plug for a number of courses we have released over the years which could prove to be advantageous to your craft at this juncture. If any of the ideas briefly touched upon here intrigue you, and you want to learn more about the benefits of adopting an ecological dynamics framework within your craft, we would strongly recommend checking out Ecological Dynamics for Dummies. If your understanding of ecological dynamics is already beyond the foundational level, and you want to take a deeper dive into further expanding the depth of that understanding, then it’s likely that Underpinnings is better suited to meet you where you are. 

Tyler Yearby M.Ed. & Shawn Myszka MS

Co-Founders & Co-Directors of Education 


  1. Renshaw, I., Davids, K., Newcombe, D., & Roberts, W. (2019). The Constraints-led approach: Principles for sports coaching and practice design (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315102351
  2. Woods, C.T., Rudd, J., Robertson, S., & Davids, K. (2020). Wayfinding: How Ecological Perspectives of Navigating Dynamic Environments Can Enrich Our Understanding of the Learner and the Learning Process in Sport. Sports Med – Open 6, 51.








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.

Tyler is the Co- Director of Education and Co-Founder of Emergence. He has held strength and conditioning positions at Northeastern State University and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Over his career, he has delivered over 200 domestic & international continuing education courses, workshops, and conference presentations in 14 countries. Tyler is currently pursuing his doctorate in sport and exercise at the University of Gloucestershire (UK), exploring skill adaptation through an ecological lens. Through applied practice and research, his goal is to support practitioners in designing representative learning environments that enable American football players to skillfully regulate their behavior in context.