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A Constraints-Based Approach to the Acquisition of Expertise in Outdoor Adventure Sports.

18 A constraints-based approach to
the acquisition of expertise in
outdoor adventure sports
Keith Davids, Eric Brymer, Ludovic Seifert
and Dominic Orth
Previous work has shown that changes in behaviour, as a function of learning,
emerge as a consequence of continuous interactions between learners and a
performance environment (Chow et al. 2011; Davids et al. 2008). These interac-
tions, with other individuals and key objects, surfaces and events during learning,
need not be the result of programmed, formalized instructions but can occur
through unstructured, exploratory activity (Davids et al. 2012). As a result of their
continuous interactions with the performance environment, learners become
adept at exploiting sources of information available as properties of the environ-
ment for regulating and changing their behaviours.
Research has also demonstrated several important properties to emerge in
nonlinear complex systems under the effect of constraints, including: system
multi- and metastability, adaptive variability, degeneracy and attunement to
affordances for action (Araújo et al. 2004; Davids et al. 2008; Hristovski et al.
2006a; Kelso 1995; Seifert et al. 2011; Seifert et al. 2013). This chapter outlines
a constraints-based framework for explaining how these key neurobiological
system properties may influence processes of learning and performance in the
context of outdoor adventure sports. With reference to current empirical work, we
discuss how functional patterns of behaviour might emerge from engagement in
outdoor adventure sports.
The constraints-based model focuses on change in individuals over different
timescales and is generically suited to the study of learning and performance in a
variety of outdoor adventure sports contexts (Brymer and Renshaw 2010, Brymer
and Davids 2013). This is because it has a strong focus on the relationship between
the individual performer, the task and the environment (social and physical) as the
appropriate scale of analysis for understanding behavioural change on different
timescales. There is an important and functional role of movement pattern vari-
ability in supporting the necessary short-term performance adaptations required
between and within skilled individuals in outdoor adventure sports and physical
activities (Davids et al. 2003, 2006). Over the longer timescale of learning, under-
standing of these complex system properties has signalled that the acquisition of
functional performance behaviours does not emerge from repetitive and imitative
practice to gradually reduce a perceived ‘void’ differentiating the behaviours of
learners and a putative expert model. Rather, learners’ behaviours need to be
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understood in terms of their functionality in achieving their intentions. For exam-
ple, in kayaking or canoeing, learners need to discover functional patterns of
behaviour that provide stability of the system formed by each individual and the
interaction with the boat, the paddle and the water during exploratory practice in
safe settings, such as small lakes and slow-moving rivers. More advanced
exploratory practice can be undertaken as the ecological constraints of perform-
ance are manipulated by a coach exposing learners to more dynamic
environmental settings, as might be found in open-water settings, oceans or fast-
moving rivers. A constraints-based framework theoretically verifies why there
exists no ideal motor coordination solution for any adventure sport, in an absolute
sense, towards which all learners should aspire (Brymer and Renshaw 2010).
Different categories of constraints are resources that limit or set the boundaries
for the emergence of coordination patterns in human movement systems. For
example, personal constraints, relevant to each individual athlete, are structural or
functional and refer to characteristics of an individual, such as genes, anthropo-
metric properties, strength, endurance, body shape, fitness level, technical
abilities, age, and so on. In adventure sports, psychological factors like beliefs,
fear, anxiety, emotional readiness and motivation obviously play a significant role
in shaping the way that participants approach a task such as climbing a vertical
surface two hundred feet off the ground or paddling through extreme white-water
rapids (Brymer and Schweitzer 2013; Brymer and Renshaw 2010). These
personal factors play a significant role in determining the responses to outdoor
adventure settings adopted by individuals.
Environmental constraints are external to each individual and can be social and
physical, reflecting the environmental conditions of a task in outdoor sports (e.g.
height, light, temperature, altitude, gravity, climbing tethered by a rope in a group).
Outdoor adventure sports are reliant on the natural environment (water, air and land)
and environmental and weather conditions represent a major influence on participa-
tion and emergent behaviours. For example white-water kayaking depends on water
flow in a river: no water, no kayaking (Brymer, Downey and Gray, 2009). Related to
this category are task constraints, which include the goal of the task, instructional
information, the equipment and the nature of the surface (e.g. texture of rock in
climbing, airflow in BASE jumping). Task constraints shape the movement pattern
variability exhibited by adventure sport athletes. For instance, functional perform-
ance behaviours in rock and ice climbers emerge from their interactions with
specific informational properties of a particular rock cliff (i.e. shape, steepness, type
of rock, overhang) or a frozen waterfall (i.e. shape, steepness, ambient temperature
at the surface, overhang, ice thickness and density of an icefall; Seifert et al. 2013).
This is because the conditions of the rock and ice (as affordances) are mostly unpre-
dictable when viewed from the ground before the climb.
Constraints and affordances in rock climbing
Complex biological systems, even simple ones without nervous systems, have the
capacity to use information to regulate their functional behaviours in complex
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environments. For example, Reid et al. (2012) demonstrated that slime mould, a
brainless unicellular organism, functions as a complex system to explore its envi-
ronment, enhance its spatial awareness and use externalized memory mechanisms
to find food or avoid nasty substances. It uses an information regulation system
to maintain its functionality. Smaller units of the slime mould oscillate at differ-
ent frequencies when food is sensed by molecular binding at its outer molecular
surface area. Oscillating frequency increases with attraction to an environmental
source of information or decreases in the presence of a repellent source. The
membrane structure of the organism softens or hardens as a result of increasing
or decreasing oscillation frequency to absorb food or repel a substance like salt,
respectively. Our work has shown that complex neurobiological systems, with
highly structured nervous systems, use similar information detection systems to
explore and act in their performance environments. Attunement to affordances is
one such exploratory system exploited by complex neurobiological systems.
For example, during the sport of rock climbing, performance is characterized
by individuals interacting with various task and environmental constraints.
Gravity could be viewed as an environmental constraint because quadrupedal
vertical locomotion involving the minimal support of at least one limb is required
to prevent falling under the force of gravity. One major climbing task constraint
on the fluency of a climbers movements is the interface of limb extremities with
the rock cliff surface, since the performer has to maintain body equilibrium on a
more or less vertical climbing surface (Bourdin et al. 1999; Quaine and Martin
1999), while combining upper- and lower-limb movements to ascend (Sibella et
al. 2007). Assessment of climbing fluency through analysis of the geometric
entropy index from the three-dimensional body centre of mass displacement
(Cordier et al. 1994; Sibella et al. 2007) is a relevant indicator to understand how
a climber alternates climbing with time spent maintaining body equilibrium under
control in a tripodal position (Bourdin et al. 1999). Expert climbers exhibit a low
geometric entropy index value since they travel a great distance up a surface slope
between each grip hold to maintain energy efficiency (Cordier et al. 1994, 1996).
A high value of climbing movement fluency suggests a more functional level of
individual–environment coupling. For instance, Sibella et al. 2007 emphasized
the relationship between a lower geometric entropy index and the capacity of rock
climbers to move when using fewer than three holds. This observation is known
as the ‘three-holds-rule’: if a rock climber uses a smaller number of holds he/she
has to be quick enough to maintain equilibrium on the surface. Conversely, if the
number of holds is equal to or greater than three, it is more likely that the rock
climber will climb slowly, because his/her equilibrium is always under control
(Sibella et al. 2007).
Climbers can achieve these different intentional aims by increasing their
attunement to affordances to regulate their actions in different climbing contexts.
Ecological psychology (Gibson 1966, 1979) proposed that affordances are oppor-
tunities in the environment that invite actions and experts are more able to
functionally exploit them in their behaviour. The implication is that affordances
do not exist independently of an individual’s perceptions and intentions. In the
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context of rock climbing, affordances (called ‘climbing opportunities’ by
Boschker et al. 2002) imply that the coordination dynamics of action emerge
from a mutual coupling of a climbers perceptions and intentions with the specific
properties of a climbing surface, such as a rock cliff (i.e. shape, steepness, type of
rock). In line with ideas on the important role of affordances, Boschker et al.
(2002) previously reported how expert rock climbers recalled more information
and focused on the functional properties of a climbing wall, neglecting to
perceive its structural features. Conversely, in their study, beginners were not able
to recall such functional properties of the wall for action and they tended to report
almost exclusively the structural features of the holds (Boschker et al. 2002).
As environmental properties of the rock cliff are mostly not predictable from
the ground, an important challenge is to examine whether and how expert
climbers detect information when they proceed to a pre-ascent climbing route
visual inspection (i.e. route preview; Sanchez et al. 2012) and how they recall
climbing surface properties once they are in the ascent (Pezzulo et al. 2010)
compared the capability of expert and novice climbers to preview and recall the
sequences of holds composing easy, difficult and impossible routes. When the
climbers were voluntary distracted between the route preview and the recall, they
showed that a greater level of movement expertise enabled a better recall of
sequences of holds on difficult routes. These findings suggest that route preview-
ing on a climbing wall activates a motor, embodied simulation, which relies on
the motor competence of the climbers. In this way, Sanchez et al. (2012) high-
lighted that route previewing did not influence movement output performance but
influenced movement form. Notably, climbing fluency was better after a preview
of the route, since the climbers made fewer and shorter stops during their ascent.
Finally, these findings showed that, with increasing levels of expertise, climbers
previewed and recalled perceptual variables that are more functional (i.e. those
which can specify actions) under a variety of different performance circum-
stances compared to novices who tended to focus and recall structural properties
of the climbing environment.
Affordances for ice climbing in skilled and unskilled climbers
The coordination of a climber’s actions with the properties of a frozen waterfall
are mediated by ice picks for use with the hands and crampons on the feet. The
ice fall can vary because key properties are stochastically distributed through the
surface. For example, ambient temperature can modify the ice density in certain
regions of the ice fall, causing changes to the structure of the surface and the
placement of holes for actions, such as hooking with an ice pick and kicking with
the crampons. Icefall properties such as these provide affordances for climbers
who perceive, use and shape movement opportunities from their own unique
perspective. For example, two climbers on the same crag would be working with
the same environmental properties but individual differences, such as limb length,
body length and emotional regulation, would result in different perceptions and
actions emerging during performance. Objectively, a crag might have various
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climbing affordances but, because of different personal constraints, not all
climbers will be able to take advantage of a specific affordance.
Environmental constraints are not under the control of the climber, since this
task requires experience at using numerous types of actions (e.g. swinging, kick-
ing and hooking actions) during exploratory behaviour. Patterns of interlimb
coordination (e.g. horizontally, diagonally and vertically located angular posi-
tions) can also be used to explore functionality of the neurobiological system
properties of degeneracy and multistability. For instance, climbers could either
swing their ice tools to create their own holes in the surface of the ice fall or hook
an existing hole (formed by the actions of the lead climber or exploiting the pres-
ence of natural holes). The latter strategy is more energy efficient and requires
some expertise in perceiving the affordances of holes for supporting body weight.
This conceptualization of skill in ice climbing supports the functional role of
intra-individual variability in exploring affordances of icefall properties for
action. Research undertaken by Seifert et al. (2011) on ice-climbing performance
has assessed interlimb coordination patterns by using the angle between the hori-
zontal line and the displacement of the heads of the left- and right-hand ice tools
for upper-limb coordination. Lower-limb coordination patterns corresponded to
the angle between the horizontal line and the displacement of the left and right
crampons (Figure 18.1; Seifert et al. 2011).
308 Davids, Brymer, Seifert and Orth
Figure 18.1 (left) Angles identified for the horizontal planes of the left and right limbs
in the upper and lower body of ice climbers; (right) modes of limb
coordination as regards the angle value between horizontal, left limb and
right limb (from Seifert et al. 2011)
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Unskilled ice climbers showed low levels of intra-individual movement and
coordination pattern variability, as they varied their upper- and lower-limb coor-
dination patterns much less frequently and extensively than the experts.
Beginners mostly used horizontally and diagonally located angular positions
(since limb anchorages are at the same level for the horizontal angle, the arms or
legs appear in an in-phase coordination mode). This behaviour resembled climb-
ing up a ladder and led them to maintain a static ‘X’ body position with arms and
legs extended or with arms flexed and legs extended, corresponding to a freezing
of the motor system degrees of freedom (Bernstein 1967). Moreover, beginners
tended not to hook the ice tool into existing holes in the ice fall but tended to
swing the ice tool into or out of the holes. Beginners mainly focused on attaining
a deep anchorage on the ice fall for both ice tools and crampons, by numerous
episodes of ice-tool swinging and crampon kicking, suggesting that the icefall
properties were either not perceived or were not used by them as relevant affor-
dances. While this behaviour might enhance their stability on the ice fall, it also
led them to greater levels of fatigue.
These data exemplify how unskilled ice climbers tended to perceive the affor-
dance of an icefall surface as requiring a significant amount of stability with
respect to the force of gravity. From a Gibsonian perspective, it was likely that
they perceived the icefall surface as ‘fall-offable’, which led them to typically
prioritize stability and security of posture in interacting with environmental
constraints, rather than speed and efficiency of displacement up the surface. For
novice climbers extending their range of skills in more difficult terrains, psycho-
logical factors such as fear and anxiety might interfere with their ability to use
affordances that might have been perceived and used when nearer the ground or
on simpler surfaces. Use of affordances is often mediated by psychological
constraints such as fear in the transition from novice to high-level adventure sport
performer (Brymer and Schweitzer 2013; Brymer and Renshaw 2010).
Conversely, in the skilled ice climbers, the frozen waterfall afforded opportu-
nities to hook their ice tools and kick in their crampons. They also tended to show
high levels of intra-individual movement and coordination pattern variability,
supporting an efficient balance between dependency/independence of their
actions from the environment as they exploited affordances in the specific icefall
properties. The efficient individual–environment coupling of the experts was
probably predicated on the neurobiological property of degeneracy (Davids and
Glazier 2010; Edelman and Gally 2001) since they varied the types of movement
and the interlimb coordination modes they exploited to achieve their task goals.
Indeed, the multistability of their complex movement systems allowed them: (i)
to swing the ice tools and to kick the crampons in many different ways (horizon-
tally, diagonally, vertically and in crossed angular positions), exploiting the
functionality of intra-individual movement pattern variability. For instance,
crossing the arms is not a natural action but it enabled skilled climbers to exploit
information and hook existing holes in the ice fall; and (ii), to hook the ice tools
into already existing holes (i.e. exploiting information on the shape of the ice fall)
and to place the crampons in the holes previously made by their own ice tools,
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instead of using repetitive ice tool swinging and crampon kicking, as observed in
From a constraint-based perspective, these behaviours are completely under-
standable and related to differentiated perceptions of personal (e.g. fear), task and
environmental constraints and significantly varying intentions. Beginners tended
to function independently of the ice fall’s properties for climbing upwards at
speed, because their main goal was to keep their equilibrium, with respect to
gravitational forces, under control. Manipulation of task constraints under the
guidance of a climbing instructor would enable the beginners to further interact
with the icefall properties in a secure learning environment, to balance their inde-
pendence of/dependence on environmental constraints when performing. This
pedagogical approach would provide gradual support for the emergence of a
wider repertoire of movement by exploiting system multistability in coordinating
their actions while allowing novice climbers to come to terms with and move
through individual constraints such as fear.
Knowledge of performance environments in outdoor adventure
A constraints-based approach also highlights the importance of the role of knowl-
edge of the performance environment, which underpins the detection of these
affordances to regulate actions (Gibson 1966; Araújo and Davids 2011; Davids
and Araújo 2010b). Gibson (1966) proposed that knowledge of the environment
is embedded in knowing how to realize an action because it involves perception
of affordances used to control action directly (Araújo and Davids 2011; Davids
and Araújo 2010b). Expert performers are able to transit functionally between
various functional coordination solutions in ice climbing by exploiting system
multistability, notably by picking up affordances for action. In contrast, novices
tend to pick up and use sources of information that may be only partially func-
tional in a particular performance situation because they do not specify actions. A
similar experience occurs in white-water kayaking, where a novice would invari-
ably cross a fast-moving current by using a standard but stable ferry glide, which
involves continuous arm work with the paddle and trunk work keeping the boat
on edge and at an appropriate angle to the current. The same move by an expert
might take one stroke, as the expert is attuned to the nuances of the water. By
perceiving and using and even shaping aspects of the current possibly considered
too dangerous by the beginner, the expert glides effortlessly across the current
using the upstream face of a standing wave. In outdoor adventure sports, knowl-
edge of the environment can also mean the difference between life and death, as
the adventurer makes a decision based on an assessment of the environment and
about the likely success of an action in partnership with a particular environmen-
tal condition (Brymer and Gray 2010).
Related to the notion of performance dependency/independence is the concept
of metastability, another important property of complex, dynamical movement
systems. System metastability emerges when a subtle blend arises between
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behavioural stability and instability, which research indicates can be exploited to
achieve adaptive functional performance goals in sport (Hristovski et al. 2006a,b;
Pinder et al. 2012). The same process is also apparent in outdoor adventure
sports. Metastability has been defined as a transient or semi-transient behaviour
or a ‘dynamically stable’ state of system organization (Kelso 1995, 2012, 2012).
In a metastable performance region, component tendencies for action independ-
ence coexist with tendencies to couple actions with affordances, explaining how
rich and varied sequences of goal-directed behaviour can spontaneously emerge
in highly dynamic adventure environments. Metastability helps an individual to
adapt their motor behaviours to achieve particular performance goals (Chow et al.
2011; Hristovski et al. 2006a,b; Pinder et al. 2012). In a metastable performance
region, one or several movement patterns are weakly stable (when there are multi-
ple attractors) or weakly unstable (when there are only attractor remnants) and
switching between two or more movement patterns occurs according to interact-
ing constraints.
Movement variability as adaptive skilled behaviour
In sport, traditional approaches to the study of performance and expertise mostly
focus on performance outputs and their consistent achievement. An important
challenge is to pay closer attention to movement organization in studying expert-
ise in outdoor adventure sports, since the existence of several expert performance
profiles may imply that there actually is no putative expert model of performance
towards which all learners should aspire. Ecological dynamics and its emphasis
on emergent behaviours under interacting constraints distinguishes variability in
movement organization, a healthy sign of adaptive behaviour in indeterminate
biological movement systems, from variability in movement output, which is
synonymous with performance inconsistency and, therefore, less functional
(Davids et al. 2006).
Research in ecological dynamics has shown that movement system variability
is not necessarily noise that is detrimental to performance, error (Newell and
Corcos 1993; Newell and Slifkin 1998; Newell 2006) or a deviation from a puta-
tive expert performance model that should be corrected in beginners. Considering
the functional role of movement variability leads to an exploration of what adap-
tive behaviour means, so that it could be more appropriate to consider the term
adaptability rather than variability. Adaptability relates to an appropriate ratio
between stability (i.e. persistent behaviours) and flexibility (i.e. variable behav-
iours; Davids et al. 2003; Li et al. 2005; van Emmerik and van Wegen 2000;
Warren 2006) and is essential to skilled performance in outdoor adventurous
sports. Expert behaviour is characterized by stable and reproducible movement
patterns that are consistent over time, resistant to perturbations and reproducible,
in that a similar movement pattern may recur under different task and environ-
mental constraints. It is not stereotyped and rigid but flexible and adaptive. Even
if movement patterns could show regularities and similarities within their struc-
tural components, an individual is not fixed into a rigidly stable solution but can
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adapt a movement pattern in a functional way, as neurobiological complex
systems reveal degeneracy (Edelman and Gally 2001). In white-water kayaking,
for example, no two rapids are alike; however, there are only a limited number of
ways of crossing a fast moving current. The expert is able to adapt (and perhaps
merge) the basic processes to fit emergent environmental affordances. In this
process, there is a fine line between stability and instability as the expert coordi-
nates extreme boat edge, boat angle, body movement, paddle stroke and mental
capacity to decide and act. The expert is able to expend less effort by exploring
this fine line between stability and instability, as it take less energy to cross the
river when the kayak is in a position of impending instability but there is also a
potential cost if the fine line is crossed.
An ecological dynamics model of expertise articulates both stability and flex-
ibility: experts and non-experts each have their stable states and sometimes share
the same coordination modes; however, a particularity of expert performance is
the capacity for adaptability, i.e. to produce behaviour which is stable when
needed and variable when needed. In fact, although human movement systems
naturally tend to move toward stable states, as more economical organization
modes (Hoyt and Taylor 1981; Sparrow 2000; Sparrow and Newell 1998), stabil-
ity and flexibility should not be construed as opposites. Flexibility should not be
interpreted as a loss of stability but, conversely, as a sign of adaptability (van
Emmerik and van Wegen 2000; Warren 2006). From there, Bartlett et al. (2007)
indicated three functional roles of movement pattern variability: (i) to adapt to
interacting constraints; (ii) to facilitate (structural or not) changes in coordination
modes and, at the same time, maintaining functional performance through degen-
eracy or redundancy; and (iii) to reduce the risk of injury.
Mason (2010) has highlighted four avenues for degeneracy in biological
systems that could help us to understand how expert individuals functionally
adapt their motor behaviours to exhibit high levels of performance outcomes in
dynamic outdoor adventure sport contexts. Firstly, ‘redundancy can create the
opportunity for degeneracy to arise as the function of the original structure is
maintained by one copy, while any other copy is free to diverge functionally’
(Mason 2010, p. 282). Secondly, degeneracy can occur through parcellation,
when an initial structure is subdivided into smaller units that can still perform the
initial function and can also be functionally redeployed (Mason 2010, p. 282).
Thirdly, degeneracy may emerge through a coordinative structure that realises a
function in combination. This means that, whether or not a structure is able to
perform an initial function independently, another one is available for modifica-
tion. Lastly, degeneracy may exist when two or more independent structures
converge upon the same function. These four avenues for degeneracy emphasize
the potential adaptation in human movement systems that coaches and teachers
could encourage to emerge in various individual motor responses to satisfy a task.
In whiter-water kayaking, for example, there are numerous ways of exiting a
fast water section of a river to enter a slow moving eddy. If the exit/entry move
requires a fast turn then one of the most efficient ways of undertaking this in a
kayak is to coordinate boat, body and paddle in such a way that the whole system
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is potentially unbalanced. In its basic form, many students of kayaking would
recognise this move as a bow rudder. The paddler drives for the eddy employs a
turning stroke on the opposite side then edges the boat to near imbalance and
plants a blade into the eddy at an angle that, if effectively undertaken, ensures
balance. If ineffectively undertaken, the move could result in a capsize, which is
not recommended on fast-moving rocky rapids. A ‘novice’ in this situation would
most likely err on the side of ensuring that the boat was not edged too far and that
the stroke was planted parallel with their feet and a short distance from the boat.
The top arm would be securely in front of their head to ensure strength and mini-
mize risk of injury. However, the turn speed and precision would not be optimal
for a smaller eddy or for turns that require sharp, instant precision. For this
reason, an expert would invariably edge the boat to a position that would be
unstable on its own but would balance this by varying the position of their body
and the planted paddle in the turn. Depending on the environmental context, the
expert might even undertake a move where the top hand is behind the head, thus
ensuring further system imbalance. The potential downside of this move is that
risk of injury is heightened because the system is so far out of balance. If the coor-
dination of boat, body and paddle is not finely tuned, injury is possible and
capsize is assured.
At an inter-individual level, movement pattern variability has been observed
both at novice and expert level, suggesting that neurobiological degeneracy is a
common property in human motor behaviour. However, degeneracy occurs in
different ways as regards to expertise level. Owing to extensive experience in
various performance contexts, experts exploit to the fullest their individual prop-
erties according to the task demands and the environmental constraints. As stated
previously, when the gap existing between the pre-existing movement pattern
repertoire of an individual and the task demands is low and/or when the tasks
demands are weak, multistability of movement patterns could emerge, giving
support for neurobiological degeneracy. For instance, expert climbers regularly
use several hand grasping patterns and body positions for a given hold (e.g.
crimp, gaston, jug, mono, pinch, pocket, sloper and undercling grasping pattern;
bridge, campus, crossover, deadpoint, flag, heel hook, knee bar and mantle body
positions; Phillips et al. 2012) exhibiting several individual climbing profiles. In
contrast, novices tend to demonstrate a basic quadrupedic climbing pattern that
resembles climbing a ladder.
Conclusions and implications
A constraints-based framework enables a new understanding of expertise in
outdoor adventure sports by considering performer–environment couplings
through emergent and self-organizing behaviours in relation to interacting
constraints. Expert adventure athletes, conceptualized as complex, dynamical
movement systems, pick up affordances for action to regulate adaptive transitions
between functional movement behaviours. For example, icefall properties contain
affordances that can induce variable motor coordination patterns in expert
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climbers, whereas beginners use a basic and stable motor organization to achieve
the main goal of maintaining body equilibrium with respect to gravity. Movement
pattern variability could play a functional role as individuals adapt their behav-
iours to ecological constraints of performance by exhibiting multistability and
metastability. The properties are exploitable by coaches and educators who can
use system instability to stimulate creativity and skill acquisition. In this way,
expertise relates to the neurobiological property of adaptability, a subtle blend
between stability and flexibility, as experts are able to be stable when needed and
variable when needed. We highlighted a new emphasis on how novices and
experts individually manage motor system degrees of freedom in coordinative
structures through redundancy or degeneracy as they structurally adapt system
and sub-system organization to achieve functional goals. The main implications
for adventure athletes are to identify and manipulate key constraints to perturb
and create emergence of appropriate behaviours rather than to encourage the
imitation of a single response in reference to a putative ideal expert model.
Indeed, imitating so-called ‘expert behaviours’ could lead to frustration and a
prolonged skill-acquisition process, as novices may encounter difficulties in
matching the required behaviours. Using a constraint-led approach could lead to
the emergence of individualized movement responses directly related to the pre-
existing intrinsic dynamics of a performer in outdoor adventure sports.
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... In many traditional sports, such as football or cricket, influential task constraints are formed by specific rules, task goals and instructional features (Cordovil et al., 2009;Orth et al., 2014;Greenwood et al., 2016). This is a fundamental difference in comparison to most extreme sports, since they are most often free of organizational frameworks, regulated competitive structures and thus, rule-bound task constraints (Davids et al., 2013b;Immonen et al., 2017). Environmental constraints can be physical (e.g., weather, ambient light, temperature or gravity), or sociocultural (e.g., values, family or peer support, cultural norms) (Davids et al., 2008(Davids et al., , 2013b. ...
... This is a fundamental difference in comparison to most extreme sports, since they are most often free of organizational frameworks, regulated competitive structures and thus, rule-bound task constraints (Davids et al., 2013b;Immonen et al., 2017). Environmental constraints can be physical (e.g., weather, ambient light, temperature or gravity), or sociocultural (e.g., values, family or peer support, cultural norms) (Davids et al., 2008(Davids et al., , 2013b. Adding to complexity, extreme sports take place in different kinds of environments, for example on land, in the air or on water (afloat or submerged) (Breivik, 2010;Davids et al., 2013b;Immonen et al., 2017). ...
... Environmental constraints can be physical (e.g., weather, ambient light, temperature or gravity), or sociocultural (e.g., values, family or peer support, cultural norms) (Davids et al., 2008(Davids et al., , 2013b. Adding to complexity, extreme sports take place in different kinds of environments, for example on land, in the air or on water (afloat or submerged) (Breivik, 2010;Davids et al., 2013b;Immonen et al., 2017). For participants, it is crucial to become attuned to information in the environment by aligning coordination with natural conditions and sources of energy for action, such as the characteristics (tube, flat, etc.), size and speed of waves, currents and wind direction in big wave surfing. ...
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Currently, there are various definitions for extreme sports and researchers in the field have been unable to advance a consensus on what exactly constitutes an 'extreme' sport. Traditional theory-led explanations, such as edgeworks, sensation seeking and psychoanalysis, have led to inadequate conceptions. These frameworks have failed to capture the depth and nuances of experiences of individuals who refute the notions of risk-taking, adrenaline-and thrill-seeking or death-defiance. Instead, participants are reported to describe experiences as positive, deeply meaningful and life-enhancing. The constant evolution of emerging participation styles and philosophies, expressed within and across distinguishable extreme sport niches, or forms of life, and confusingly dissimilar definitions and explanations, indicate that, to better understand cognitions, perceptions and actions of extreme sport participants, a different level of analysis to traditional approaches needs to be emphasized. This paper develops the claim that a more effective definition, reflecting the phenomenology, and framework of an ecological dynamics rationale, can significantly advance the development of a more comprehensive and nuanced future direction for research and practice. Practical implications of such a rationale include study designs, representative experimental analyses and developments in coaching practices and pedagogical approaches in extreme sports. Our position statement suggests that extreme sports are more effectively defined as emergent forms of action and adventure sports, consisting of an inimitable person-environment relationship with exquisite affordances for ultimate perception and movement experiences, leading to existential reflection and self-actualization as framed by the human form of life.
... One possible explanation for the discrepancies in popular imagination and theoretical explanations in research on AAS participation is that conceptual definitions for these activities remain unclear. Common terms include action sports [32,33], adventure sports [25,34,35], extreme sports [36,37], lifestyle sports [38][39][40], alternative sports [41,42] and (high) risk sports [43][44][45][46]. This is a key concern because the lack of widely shared definitions or classifications among researchers has led to confusing discourse and contradictory research findings. ...
... Consequently, it is imperative that we develop a clear understanding of what exactly constitutes an AAS. The confusion in current discourse indicates an evident need for a more nuanced, holistic and multidisciplinary approach to the study of AAS [34]. Thus, AAS should be understood through emphasizing a different level of analysis to traditional perspectives. ...
... In this paper, we argue that a more comprehensive understanding of AAS participation can be achieved through the ecological dynamics (ED) framework. This framework promotes an understanding, over relevant timescales (such as performance and learning), of how irregular and unpredictable constraints in AAS influence the emergent dynamics of continuous, dynamical relationships evolving between an individual and her/his environment [34,52]. The cornerstones of ED are that (a) movement behaviors are examined and understood at the performer-environment scale of analysis; (b) perception of information provides opportunities for action (i.e., affordances) and is the basis of how behaviours are regulated at an individual level; and (3) performance behaviours are self-organized over time under interacting constraints [34,52,53]. ...
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Previous research has considered action and adventure sports using a variety of associated terms and definitions which has led to confusing discourse and contradictory research findings. Traditional narratives have typically considered participation exclusively as the pastime of young people with abnormal characteristics or personalities having unhealthy and pathological tendencies to take risks because of the need for thrill, excitement or an adrenaline ‘rush’. Conversely, recent research has linked even the most extreme forms of action and adventure sports to positive physical and psychological health and well-being outcomes. Here, we argue that traditional frameworks have led to definitions, which, as currently used by researchers, ignore key elements constituting the essential merit of these sports. In this paper, we suggest that this lack of conceptual clarity in understanding cognitions, perception and action in action and adventure sports requires a comprehensive explanatory framework, ecological dynamics which considers person-environment interactions from a multidisciplinary perspective. Action and adventure sports can be fundamentally conceptualized as activities which flourish through creative exploration of novel movement experiences, continuously expanding and evolving beyond predetermined environmental, physical, psychological or sociocultural boundaries. The outcome is the emergence of a rich variety of participation styles and philosophical differences within and across activities. The purpose of this paper is twofold: (a) to point out some limitations of existing research on action and adventure sports; (b) based on key ideas from emerging research and an ecological dynamics approach, to propose a holistic multidisciplinary model for defining and understanding action and adventure sports that may better guide future research and practical implications.
... This deficiency may be attributed to the lack of organizational frameworks and regulated competitive structures during extreme sports relative to other 'traditional' sports (e.g. football, soccer, hockey) (19,20). As the concern for concussion and international participation in extreme sports continues to rise, a structured assessment and return to play protocol needs to be created and considered for this unique subset of athletes (19,20). ...
... football, soccer, hockey) (19,20). As the concern for concussion and international participation in extreme sports continues to rise, a structured assessment and return to play protocol needs to be created and considered for this unique subset of athletes (19,20). We are unaware of any published reviews on concussion incidence and management in extreme sports athletes. ...
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Background. As participation in extreme sports continues to grow internationally, the number of concussions sustained during these activities is predicted to increase. Due to the lack of organizational frameworks, governing rules, or regulated competitive structures, the incidence of concussion and its management specific to extreme sports athletes remains difficult to determine. Methods. Relevant papers were screened from PubMed using a combination of terms related to extreme sports and concussion. After considering existing literature, papers that did not fit the authors’ agreed-upon definition of extreme sports were excluded. Results. Eleven manuscripts met inclusion criteria. Of the eleven, only five studies reported on more than one extreme sport while the other six were sport-specific. Three were review papers that used sport-specific data to generalize about extreme sports. Conclusions. The results of our review indicate that the current literature available for concussion in extreme sports varies highly in study design and type of sports investigated. Due to the lack of knowledge regarding concussions in extreme sports, there needs to be an emphasis to better document and record concussion incidence in extreme sports, as well as the need to develop specific return-to-play guidelines for healthcare professionals treating extreme sports athletes.
... For being able to withstand the burden given, thus, it will have the ability to achieve maximum performance both in sports and learning achievement. In addition to the above description, it can also be said that the interest of most students in applying the Secure [9], Simple [10], Real [11], Innovative [12], Objective [13], and Measurable [13] (SSRIOM) approach is due to the approach can provide a feeling of being safe, simple, real, providing innovation, objective, and measurable in its implementation. ...
... Climbing requires an individual to adapt to a more or less vertical and everchanging structure of a climbing surface with the task of completing a route without falling . Skilled behaviour in climbing is predicated on how an individual dynamically adapts actions to varied climbing surface properties (variations in shape, texture and relative distancing of features; Davids, Brymer, Seifert, & Orth, 2014). Due to the extreme postural constraints imposed by the small protrusive/sunken edges embedded into a sloped surface, climbers need to continuously regulate their use of the environment relative to their internal state during performance. ...
... During interactions with an affordance landscape in a park or nature trail, for example, individuals need to be able to explore a surface and its texture, an object or feature, and discover invitations for specific behaviours. A manifold of affordances represents a perceptual-motor workspace that PA designers could create for different individuals by manipulating task constraints [16]. It is important to design invitations for variable actions to emerge under different task and environmental constraints in workspaces because of the role of movement variability in enhancing skill acquisition and children's motor learning and development [12]. ...
Ideas in ecological dynamics have profound implications for designing environments that offer opportunities for physical activity (PA), exercise and play in sedentary individuals. They imply how exercise scientists, health professionals, planners, designers, engineers and psychologists can collaborate in co-designing environments and playscapes that facilitate PA and exercise behaviours in different population subgroups. Here, we discuss how concepts in ecological dynamics emphasise the person-environment scale of analysis, indicating how PA environments might be (re)designed into qualitative regions of functional significance (affordances) that invite health-enhancing behaviours according to individuals' capacities and skills (effectivities).
... By making multiple affordances functionally available during practice, learning can be induced without needing to increase the absolute difficulty of a task (the likelihood of failure). This is an important finding especially in climbing where safety is a concern (Collins & Collins, 2012;Davids, Brymer, Seifert, & Orth, 2014). When different climbing affordances are made functionally available during route finding, a degree of uncertainty is represented requiring the climber to adapt. ...
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Being a discipline with a broad range of genres, rock climbing is an activity where participants seek to generalize the skills they learn in different performance contexts. A training strategy for achieving skill transfer was explored in a group of experienced climbers. Specifically, we tested the effect of practising on three routes, each of the same difficulty, but where handholds supported opportunities for using either a single technical action or multiple actions. Transfer of climbing fluidity in terms of the geometric index of entropy (GIE) of the hip trajectory was then assessed. We expected that learning would be induced on the route where multiple actions were usable. Results revealed that GIE showed a learning effect only when practice was undertaken on a route designed with multiple graspable edges. Practice on the multi-functional route best explains why the participants' successfully generalized climbing fluency under transfer conditions.
... The distinction of expert performers is not their convergence on specific movement strategies, but their ability to transit functionally between movement coordination solutions in an array of situated tasks. Novices, in contrast, tend to rely on a limited repertoire of functional coordination solutions with partial efficacy to accomplish unfamiliar tasks [93]. Counter to traditional approaches in studying performance output, paying attention to movement organization reveals that movement system variability is not necessarily detrimental noise or variance error. ...
Often relegated to the methods section of genetic research articles, the term “degeneracy” is regularly misunderstood and its theoretical significance widely understated. Degeneracy describes the ability of different structures to be conditionally interchangeable in their contribution to system functions. Frequently mislabeled redundancy, degeneracy refers to structural variation whereas redundancy refers to structural duplication. Sources of degeneracy include, but are not limited to, (1) duplicate structures that differentiate yet remain isofunctional, (2) unrelated isofunctional structures that are dispersed endogenously or exogenously, (3) variable arrangements of interacting structures that achieve the same output through multiple pathways, and (4) parcellation of a structure into subunits that can still variably perform the same initial function. The ability to perform the same function by drawing upon an array of dissimilar structures contributes advantageously to the integrity of a system. Drawing attention to the heterogeneous construction of living systems by highlighting the concept of degeneracy valuably enhances the ways scientists think about self-organization, robustness, and complexity. Labels in science, however, can sometimes be misleading. In scientific nomenclature, the word “degeneracy” has calamitous proximity to the word “degeneration” used by pathologists and the shunned theory of degeneration once promoted by eugenicists. This article disentangles the concept of degeneracy from its close etymological siblings and offers a brief overview of the historical and contemporary understandings of degeneracy in science. Distinguishing the importance of degeneracy will hopefully allow systems theorists to more strategically operationally conceptualize the distributed intersecting networks that comprise complex living systems. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Complexity, 2014
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Background Climbing is a physical activity and sport involving many subdisciplines. Minimization of prolonged pauses, use of a relatively simple path through a route and smooth transitions between movements broadly define skilled coordination in climbing. Objectives To provide an overview of the constraints on skilled coordination in climbing and to explore future directions in this emerging field. Methods A systematic literature review was conducted in 2014 and retrieved studies reporting perceptual and movement data during climbing tasks. To be eligible for the qualitative synthesis, studies were required to report perceptual or movement data during climbing tasks graded for difficulty. Results Qualitative synthesis of 42 studies was carried out, showing that skilled coordination in climbing is underpinned by superior perception of climbing opportunities; optimization of spatial–temporal features pertaining to body-to-wall coordination, the climb trajectory and hand-to-hold surface contact; and minimization of exploratory behaviour. Improvements in skilled coordination due to practice are related to task novelty and the difficulty of the climbing route relative to the individual’s ability level. Conclusion Perceptual and motor adaptations that improve skilled coordination are highly significant for improving the climbing ability level. Elite climbers exhibit advantages in detection and use of climbing opportunities when visually inspecting a route from the ground and when physically moving though a route. However, the need to provide clear guidelines on how to improve climbing skill arises from uncertainties regarding the impacts of different practice interventions on learning and transfer.
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Research background and hypothesis. Ice climbers determine their own ascent paths by creating holes with their crampons and ice tools. The coupling of upper and lower limbs thus emerges from the icefall environment without prescriptions for one mode of coordination. Research aim. The aim of this study was to analyse the upper / lower limb coordination of ice climbers of different skill level and to explore how the environmental constraint (ice fall shape) is used by the climbers to adapt their motor behaviour. Research methods. Six elite ice climbers and fi ve beginners climbed a 30m icefall, respectively in grade 5 / 5+ and grade 4. Frontal camera videotaped the fi rst 15m of the ascent, then the left and right ice tools and the left and right crampons were digitalised in order to analyse the upper limbs coupling, the lower limbs coupling and the upper / lower limb coordination. Research results. The results indicated that in-phase mode of upper / lower limb coordination was the main attractor for both groups. However, elite climbers showed greater variability in their behaviour, exploring larger range of upper and lower angles (particularly vertical and crossed positions) and types of movement (ice tool swinging and ice hole hooking). Discussion and conclusions. It was concluded that holes in ice fall, and more globally ice fall shape, were affordances that induced variable upper / lower limb coordination in elite climbers, whereas beginners used a basic and stable motor organization in order to maintain body equilibrium. Keywords: upper / lower limb coordination, environmental constrains, types of movement.
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Current research in biology and physiology has unequivocally demonstrated the significance of variability for the optimal functioning of healthy and adaptable systems. Different pathologies are characterized by reductions in complexity of organization, often signified by loss of variability and adaptability. It is argued that the traditional perspective on biology in general and movement science in particular that tended to associate noise and variability with performance decrements and pathology is no longer tenable. Tools and methodologies that have emerged from the dynamical systems perspective to coordination and control are discussed in the context of postural control and transitions in interlimb coordination and locomotion. First, it is shown that variability can play a functional role in the detection and exploration of stability boundaries during balance control. Second, pattern transitions are characterized by increased variability in movement coordination dynamics. Under conditions of movement pathologies, such as in Parkinson's disease, reductions in variability in coordination dynamics clearly identify movement coordination and transition problems so characteristic for these patients. It is concluded that the relation between variability and stability is complex and that variability cannot be equated with instability without knowledge of the underlying movement dynamics.
In this paper we present key ideas for an ecological dynamics approach to learning that reveal the importance of learner–environment interactions to frame outdoor experiential learning. We propose that ecological dynamics provides a useful framework for understanding the interacting constraints of the learning process and for designing learning opportunities in outdoor experiential learning.