On failing and learning. Together. Mit Elefanten.

An ethnographic method prioritises participant observation, the context which surrounds these observations, and how the events observed are meaningfully experienced by the participants themselves. This enables researchers to tell a story that reflects the interaction between events, in real-world situations, that happen over long and short timescales. This moves analysis away from a single moment, say an experiment in a lab, and opens it out to consider how something that happened a day, week, year, or more ago may have contributed to what was said, or done, during another moment of interest. Done well, ethnographic work challenges theoretical assumptions made without a broader contextual understanding of the phenomena in question and raises multiple questions about new areas to study or investigate using a range of techniques.

When Kristina Brümmer, an energetic, joyful and passionate sports sociologist from the University of Oldenburg in Germany, visited our Cognitive Ecologies Lab at Macquarie University in Sydney in 2019, we were both excited to discover that ethnographic research on sports training was something we shared. She’d been using this method to study skilled performance processes in gymnastics and football teams, I’d been using it to study skill learning on the trapeze.

Continue reading “On failing and learning. Together. Mit Elefanten.”

Lighthouse interview: challenges for athletes at an Olympics with no spectators (and five billion other Covid-related factors)

One of the big questions people are asking in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics is how athletes are going to react to competing in an empty stadium – or alternate venue – without a spectator in sight. I was interviewed about this by Fran Molloy back in April, for Macquarie University’s Lighthouse. This was back when it looked like domestic spectators would be allowed.

Continue reading “Lighthouse interview: challenges for athletes at an Olympics with no spectators (and five billion other Covid-related factors)”

On learning from experts’ embodied experience, in the situations where they thrive. New book chapter with John Sutton.

We can learn so much from people who are really good at what they do. So how do we do this? And why does it matter?

A book chapter by John Sutton and I asking, and answering, these questions was recently published in an exciting volume pulling a whole range of interesting work on skill together: The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Skill and Expertise, carefully and cleverly edited by Ellen Fridland and Carlotta Pavese.

For our contribution – ‘Embodied experience in the cognitive ecologies of skilled performance‘ – we take a brief tour through some of the existing research on experts and embodied expertise and explore some of the many, varied (and quite cool) methods for producing this. Contrary to the view that experts can’t accurately recall or articulate what they did and why when the pressure is on, we finish by looking at a case study from road cycling that shows just how much some people can tell us about their own performance processes – why they did what they did, when they did – and why this is so incredibly valuable to researchers interested in skilled performance processes. The chapter is also a plea to more researchers to study expertise in the complex, unpredictable settings where that expertise is deployed: out in the world rather than in a lab or other controlled environment. (Although the lab studies sure do teach us a lot as well. Truth be told, I often want to share this chapter with researchers I look up to in a range of different disciplines and say, ‘Work with us! This is what we bring to some of the questions that you are interested in as well.’ Collaboration and healthy interdisciplinarity for the win!)

Continue reading “On learning from experts’ embodied experience, in the situations where they thrive. New book chapter with John Sutton.”

Lighthouse Interview: the mental side of high-performance sport

“Skilled practitioners think strategically and flexibly to cope with challenges as they arise and increase their chances of success.”

This is why athletes returning to a sport after a break may do far better than expected compared to considering their physical form alone. Sharp thinking can also be the difference between going well once or twice, and performing consistently when risk, pressure or other stakes are high.

I was recently interviewed about these topics by Fran Malloy for a feature article, “The Science of the Sporting Comeback”. This story was published on Macquarie University’s Lighthouse website as part of Brain Awareness Week. It reflects the kinds of questions we ask, answers we are finding, and research we get excited by, in the Cognitive Ecologies Lab in the University’s Department of Cognitive Science.

If you’re curious to learn more about the mental side of sport, or an enticing overview of the research I do and what drives it, or even why mountain biking provides such terrific opportunities for learning more about these topics, please follow this link and enjoy the read.

Image: Gaye Camm rides the exit line from the ridiculously fun Trouty trail in Derby Tasmania, without having seen it before suddenly being on it. There are some fascinating cognitive processes involved in staying upright in this scenario!

SBS News interview: women in high risk sports

“Parkour is not as dangerous as it looks from the outside. Part of it is looking at a challenge and breaking down the risk, and then building up the skills to mitigate those risks.”

Back in 2019, I was interviewed by Amelia Dunn for my research expertise on high risk sports for a SBS News story on the rise of women and girls in parkour. In the end, the above quote from me is the only bit of that interview that was needed. What makes the story so strong is the articulate, enthusiastic perspectives of the traceuses (female participants) themselves. As visibility for an increasingly diverse range of experiences in sport continues to grow I hope to see more original, insightful content like this more often.

You can watch or read the feature here. Warning: their energy is infectious and you may not look at the built environment, or think about your own way of moving through it, quite the same way again.

Image: SBS News