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Theory to Practice: Performance Preparation Models in Contemporary High-Level Sport Guided by an Ecological Dynamics Framework

  • Woods, Carl T.1, 2
  • McKeown, Ian2
  • O’Sullivan, Mark3, 4
  • Robertson, Sam1
  • Davids, Keith3
  • 1 Victoria University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia , Melbourne (Australia)
  • 2 Port Adelaide Football Club, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia , Adelaide (Australia)
  • 3 Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK , Sheffield (United Kingdom)
  • 4 AIK Football, Stockholm, Sweden , Stockholm (Sweden)
Published Article
Sports Medicine - Open
Springer International Publishing
Publication Date
Aug 14, 2020
DOI: 10.1186/s40798-020-00268-5
Springer Nature


A fundamental challenge for practitioners in high-level sporting environments concerns how to support athletes in adapting behaviours to solve emergent problems during competitive performance. Guided by an ecological dynamics framework, the design and integration of competitive performance preparation models that place athlete-environment interactions at the heart of the learning process may address this challenge. This ecological conceptualisation of performance preparation signifies a shift in a coach’s role; evolving from a consistent solution provider to a learning environment designer who fosters local athlete-environment interactions. However, despite the past decades of research within the ecological dynamics framework developing an evidence-based, theoretical conceptualisation of skill acquisition, expertise and talent development, an ongoing challenge resides within its practical integration into sporting environments. This article provides two case examples in which high-level sports organisations have utilised an ecological dynamics framework for performance preparation in Australian football and Association Football. A unique perspective is offered on experiences of professional sport organisations attempting to challenge traditional ideologies for athlete performance preparation by progressing the theoretical application of ecological dynamics. These case examples intend to promote the sharing of methodological ideas to improve athlete development, affording opportunities for practitioners and applied scientists to accept, reject or adapt the approaches presented here to suit their specific ecosystems.

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