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Elevating Movement Practice: The Importance of Play and Problem Solving

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Incorporating Cooperative and Competitive Elements for Game-Speed Creativity and Skill Development

By Andrew Bolter

Diagram from Rob Gray's 'Perception and Action' website:

Welcome to the world of ecological dynamics, where movement practice is not just about performing drills and tasks but also about embracing play and problem solving. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of play and problem solving in movement practice and how incorporating these elements can elevate skill development, teamwork, and game-speed creativity. We will delve into the concepts of cooperative and competitive problem solving, and how they can be incorporated into movement practice to create a rich and varied movement environment. We will also draw on the applied work and philosophies of experts in the field, such as Rafe Kelley, Shawn Myszka, Joel Smith, Julia J.C. Blau, Jeffery B. Wagman, and Rob Gray.

By the end of this blog post, you will have a deeper understanding of how ecological dynamics can transform your movement practice and help you develop a functional and enjoyable movement practice.


Movement Practice Revolutionized: Why Ecological Dynamics Matters

Ecological dynamics has revolutionized the way we think about movement practice. Traditional approaches to movement training often emphasize isolated drills and tasks, devoid of environmental contexts. This approach can lead to robotic movement patterns that do not translate well to real-world situations. Ecological dynamics, on the other hand, recognizes that movement is not just about individual actions, but also about interactions with the environment and other people. It emphasizes the importance of play and problem-solving in creating a movement practice that is functional, enjoyable, and effective. This is particularly important because movement is not just about physical fitness; it also has cognitive, emotional, and social dimensions. A movement practice that incorporates play and problem-solving can help develop teamwork, decision-making, creativity, and adaptability.

Unlocking the Power of Play and Game-Speed Creativity

Now that we've established why ecological dynamics is so important, let's dive into the key principles and concepts that make it so effective. At its core, ecological dynamics recognizes that movement is not just about individual actions, but also about interactions with the environment and other people. This means that movement practice should be designed to be contextually rich, challenging, and enjoyable.

One key principle of ecological dynamics is the concept of affordances. Affordances are the opportunities for action that the environment offers to an individual. They are dependent on the individual's abilities, goals, and perceptions. As Rob Gray explains in his book, "Perception-Action Coupling and Education," affordances can be enhanced or constrained by the design of the environment. For example, a parkour athlete might see a wall as an opportunity for a jump or a climb, while a non-practitioner might see it as an obstacle to avoid. By designing environments that offer rich and varied affordances, we can encourage creative and adaptive movement.

Another important principle of ecological dynamics is the concept of constraints. Constraints are factors that limit or enable movement, such as the physical properties of the environment or the rules of a game. Jeffery Wagman, in his article "Ecological Dynamics and Motor Learning: Constraints-Led Approach," argues that traditional approaches to movement training often focus on reducing constraints, such as using weight machines to isolate muscles. However, this approach can lead to movement patterns that are not functional in real-world situations. Instead, ecological dynamics emphasizes the importance of working with constraints, such as incorporating unstable surfaces or changing the rules of a game, to develop movement variability and adaptability.

So, how can we apply these principles to movement practice? Rafe Kelley, founder of Evolve Move Play, emphasizes the importance of play and problem-solving in creating a movement practice that is enjoyable and effective. Kelley's approach involves exploring natural environments, such as forests or beaches, and engaging in cooperative and competitive problem-solving challenges that require a variety of movement skills. Shawn Myszka, movement coach and founder of The Movement Miyagi, also emphasizes the importance of play and exploration in movement practice. Myszka's approach involves using games and challenges to develop movement skills and decision-making ability.

Joel Smith, founder of Just Fly Sports Performance, incorporates ecological dynamics into his approach to athletic performance. Smith emphasizes the importance of incorporating reactive training, which involves responding to stimuli in the environment, such as a partner's movements or a ball's trajectory. By training in this way, athletes can develop the ability to make quick and accurate decisions in game-like situations.

In summary, ecological dynamics offers a revolutionary approach to movement practice that emphasizes the importance of context, variability, and play. By designing movement practice to be challenging, enjoyable, and contextually rich, we can develop movement skills that are functional, adaptive, and enjoyable.

Putting It All into Action: How to Apply Ecological Dynamics to Your Movement Practice

By now, you should have a solid understanding of the importance of ecological dynamics in creating a valuable movement practice, and how it can elevate your play and game-speed creativity over traditional drills and tasks devoid of environmental contexts.

But how can you apply this knowledge to your own practice? The first step is to start experimenting with movement in different environments and contexts, and allow yourself to explore and adapt to the challenges presented. As Rafe Kelley puts it, "Movement is not a set of predetermined solutions to preordained problems. It is an ever-changing conversation with the environment."

Vital Pursuit Athletics also emphasizes the importance of approaching movement as a cooperative and competitive problem-solving task. This means seeking out training partners who can challenge you in new and unpredictable ways, and working together to find creative solutions to movement challenges.

If you're an athlete or coach looking to take your movement practice to the next level, let's connect! With personalized coaching tailored to your specific needs, I can help you integrate the concepts of ecological dynamics into your training and movement practice. I have years of experience working with athletes from a variety of backgrounds and can help you unlock your full potential. Don't hesitate to reach out and start your journey towards a more effective and fulfilling movement practice.

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