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Sport Practitioners as Sport Ecology Designers: How Ecological Dynamics Has Progressively Changed Perceptions of Skill “Acquisition” in the Sporting Habitat

  • Woods, Carl T.1, 2, 3
  • McKeown, Ian2
  • Rothwell, Martyn4
  • Araújo, Duarte5
  • Robertson, Sam1
  • Davids, Keith4
  • 1 Institute for Health and Sport, Victoria University, Melbourne, VIC , (Australia)
  • 2 Port Adelaide Football Club, Football Department, Adelaide, SA , (Australia)
  • 3 Department of Sport and Exercise Science, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD , (Australia)
  • 4 Centre for Sport and Human Performance, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield , (United Kingdom)
  • 5 CIPER, Faculdade de Motricidade Humana, University de Lisboa, Lisbon , (Portugal)
Published Article
Frontiers in Psychology
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
Apr 24, 2020
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00654
PMID: 32390904
PMCID: PMC7194200
PubMed Central


Over two decades ago, Davids et al. (1994) and Handford et al. (1997) raised theoretical concerns associated with traditional, reductionist, and mechanistic perspectives of movement coordination and skill acquisition for sport scientists interested in practical applications for training designs. These seminal papers advocated an emerging consciousness grounded in an ecological approach, signaling the need for sports practitioners to appreciate the constraints-led, deeply entangled, and non-linear reciprocity between the organism (performer), task, and environment subsystems. Over two decades later, the areas of skill acquisition, practice and training design, performance analysis and preparation, and talent development in sport science have never been so vibrant in terms of theoretical modeling, knowledge generation and innovation, and technological deployment. Viewed at an ecological level of analysis, the work of sports practitioners has progressively transitioned toward the facilitation of an evolving relationship between an organism (athlete and team) and its environment (sports competition). This commentary sets out to explore how these original ideas from Davids et al. (1994) and Handford et al. (1997) have been advanced through the theoretical lens of ecological dynamics. Concurrently, we provide case study exemplars, from applied practice in high-performance sports organizations, to illustrate how these contemporary perspectives are shaping the work of sports practitioners (sport ecology designers) in practice and in performance preparation.

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