The Future is Ecological

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The Future is Ecological


In our previous blog ‘Beyond Drills vs Games‘ we explored the science behind Skill Acquisition or preferably now ‘Skill Adaptation’, and arrive at Ecological Dynamics. This in turn helps us view complex adaptive systems such as sporting contexts, through a credible lens. 

Our following short clip gives us a clue as to what Ecological Dynamics looks like…


It’s not like the study of behaviour, psychological and scientific principles is a new endeavour, but it’s application in relation to the sporting context both in performance and development currently has only a minority offering in the coaching and teaching space.

Dr Richard Bailey’s ‘Passionate plea for evidence-based coaching and the appliance of science’  ‘made it his mission to drag coaching out of the dark ages and into a new age of enlightenment.

“We are in the age of technology, but the coaching industry has been reluctant to jump on the bandwagon and embrace scientific innovation.”Dr Richard Bailey


Thankfully we can find our world’s leading sporting organisation FC Barcelona embracing an ecological perspective across all their Team Sports. Yet, even they are self-proclaimed “Pioneers in providing a principled scientific perspective to our style of play and being the first club in the world that does more than just sports analytics.”

For them “This is serious…Applying a scientific lens to our stye of play is difficult”

“While our style of play is visible - you can see it, you can appreciate it, the knowledge that sits behind it, is not”

This offers an indication as to why scientific innovation is yet to be fully embraced by the sporting world.

Watch: The Presentation of the Barça Innovation Hub  [Team Sports 15:20 - 21:42]


The following presentation of Professor Keith Davids - ECOLOGICAL DYNAMICS IN ANALYSIS OF PERFORMANCE IN TEAM SPORT  provides a theoretical introduction of the Ecological Dynamics integrated framework and it’s application in team sports. Yes, it’s possible to apply the science!

From a combination of theories we can identify tendencies which are integral to complex adaptive systems and their thriving, interacting, relationship dynamics.

From this learning then, we become familiar with

  • The interaction of constraints between individuals, task and environment
  • A most important principle in information and movement coupling or Perception-Action.
  • Importance of self-organisation tendencies.

This in turn directly impacts on:

  • Our Learning Design as coaches
  • The Environment we create
  • Our role to co-ordinate together as part of a complex adaptive system.

This immediately lends to questioning our current practices, if they are:

  • Isolating actions and removing them from their perceptual demands (Also watch Mark Upton’s Impact of Perception on Action in Team Sports)
  • Minimising variability and risk with structures to simplify and quantify.
  • Being directed and ruled by one individual as opposed to the collective. 


Because of the complexities of embracing Ecological Dynamics, the dangers are real that we may in fact try harder in ignoring or worse, eliminating ‘humanness’ in order to keep comfortable in our traditions, control and containing any risk associated with thriving, unpredictable systems.

David Byrne widens this narrative in our evolving (or de-evolving?) society - Eliminating the Human

“I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. Remove humans from the equation and we are less complete as people or as a society. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals—we as individuals are inhabitants of networks, we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.”

In the sporting arena then, we are creating artificial environments. trying to minimise human error and variability through structured, controlled and outcome based plans. But unless we can completely eliminate our humanness from contexts, the ever unpredictable and complex systems will remain and indeed we ignore at our future peril.


The GAME PLAY LEARN APPROACH embraces the complexities of Ecological Dynamics through accessible means:
  • Design the GAME

    Using GAME Design to ensure Perception-Action at the forefront of Learning Design and collaboration in real-time emerging constraints.

  • Let them PLAY

    Providing an interacting, self-adaptive environment through the power of PLAY.

  • Watch them LEARN

    Our important role of Observer and Facilitator co-ordinates the relationship dynamics.

2 Comments on “The Future is Ecological”

  1. Very informative explanations in coaching terminology for practices that were undertaken by very successful coaches for many years.
    Think Peter Smith who coached Lleyton Hewitt, Peter Carter (South Australia) who coached Federer in his beginning successful era, Trevor Cibich the most successful coach in South Australia.

  2. Pingback: The PE Playbook - June 2017 Edition - drowningintheshallow

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