In early January, we took the trip down to Nashville, TN to engage with the baseball community at the annual American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention. There were over 7,000 individuals in attendance that are involved with some aspect of the athlete’s development. Since the launch of Emergence in October of 2019, we’ve had a strong baseball following and felt compelled to see what questions are circulating in the sport. Other than conversing with a number of individuals at the trade show, we scheduled a Movement Meet-up (MMU) to bring the community together and lock arms in getting closer to creating the best learning environment possible for our athletes. In doing this, we teamed up with Randy Sullivan and the Florida Baseball Ranch. It was an exciting 3 hours filled with a number of thought-provoking questions and practical suggestions. Here are the two questions we used to kick things off.
- How do you define skill acquisition/adaptation?
- How does your definition shape the way you design practice activities?
If we are going to appreciate the mutuality between the performer-environment relationship, as well as use this relationship as the appropriate scale of analysis for understanding human behavior, then these are the types of questions we must ask ourselves. These two questions generated plenty of conversation and led to us discussing ecological dynamics, which considers athletes and sports teams as complex adaptive systems. Rather than performing a movement to try and make it perfect, which is often done in a decontextualized setting anyway, we aim to help athletes solve problems by adapting to the ever-changing constraints.
Our discussion kept going back to the practitioner being a ‘problem designer’ or ‘environment architect.’ If we view ourselves as a ‘problem designer’ or ‘environment architect,’ then we certainly need to use representative task design in practice, so our athletes will perceive information for affordances (opportunities/invitations) that leads to the organization of functional movement solutions. For example, the pitching machine provides entirely different information for pick-up, then a coach or player throwing a ball. There may be a time and place for using equipment like this, but athletes need to be attuned (the process of attending to more useful information for the task) to perceptual variables that will lead to the development of relevant information-movement couplings. All in all, it was a fantastic evening, which left us invigorated with the excitement of the group.
Two weeks after the ABCA Convention, we headed down to St. Louis, MO for the World Pitching Congress (WPC). There were nearly 15 presenters and almost 100 attendees, which made for a pretty sweet event. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to deliver a session titled ‘Guiding Skill Adaptation.’
As the name suggests, my session was aimed at helping the problem designers/environment architects to better understand the problems that their athletes face, so the athletes can chase dexterity. Dexterity is the ability to find a motor solution for any external situation, that is, to adequately solve any emerging motor problem correctly, quickly, rationally, and resourcefully (Bernstein, N.A., 67’). The title and direction of the session emerged from the thoughts of Duarte Araujo and Keith Davids, along with their 2011 paper, titled, ‘What Exactly is Acquired During Skill Acquisition? I view sport as a problem-solving process, and my session hopefully brought some clarity to respecting the problem. In ecological dynamics, skill acquisition/skill adaptation/skill attunement can be viewed as a reciprocal functional relationship between an individual and the environment (Araujo, D. and Davids, K., 2011).
A constraints-led approach (CLA), which is underpinned by nonlinear pedagogical principles, gives problem designers the tools we need to guide our athletes in solving movement problems. For example, changing the height and surface of the mound (task and environment manipulation) will require the pitcher to (re)organize parts of their body with respect to the environmental changes (Turvey, M., 1990). Baseball, like any other sport, involves perception, which is a dynamic process involving the whole body of the athlete (Teques, P., 2017).
There were numerous sessions at the World Pitching Congress that offered insightful ideas about analyzing movement, activity design, strength training, and so on. The question I kept asking myself during a lot of these presentations was, ‘How can you prescribe the most accurate solution when you haven’t accurately defined the problem?’ While I feel we are moving in the right direction, I still feel we are a bit too focused on the athlete. Obviously, that is vitally important, but maybe we need to investigate the context of the sport in greater depth.
These ideas may seem daunting at first, but they will undoubtedly help you design more fruitful learning environments for your athletes. A great point of departure for gaining more clarity on these ideas is our newest mini-course ‘Ecological Dynamics for Dummies.’
In conclusion, these were probably the two main questions that were collectively asked between the two events.
- Is there a place for decontextualized drills/activities?
- How do you suggest that I modify my practice activities, so they contain information that is similar to what the athletes will perceive in the game?
In the coming weeks, we’ll dive into these questions as we all strive to become the best ‘problem designers’ / ‘environment architects’ possible!
Co-Director of Education
For more reading:
- Araujo, D, and Davids, K. What Exactly is Acquired During Skill Acquisition? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2011
- Araujo, D, and Davids, K. Ecological Approaches to Cognition and Action in sport and exercise: Ask not only what you do, but ask where you do it. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 2009
- Bernstein, N. The Co-ordination and Regulation of Movements, 1967
- Teques, P, Araujo, D, Seifert, L, del Campo, V, and Davids, K. The resonant system: linking brain-body-environment in sport performance. Progress in Brain Research, 2017
- Turvey, M. T. (1990). Coordination. American Psychologist, 45(8), 938