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!)
“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!
“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.
The answer: as many things as there are trails, bike designs and ways to enjoy them!
Earlier this year, I took philosopher colleague, Wayne Christensen, on a ride at the Ourimbah mountain bike track in New South Wales, Australia. After a lap of the cross-country track on his own bike, a ten year old Cannondale hardtail, I then encouraged Wayne to do a lap of the trails on my bike, the latest model Specialized Stumpjumper with 29″ wheels and a whole lot of bounce.
The video below documents Wayne’s reactions to the new bike after 20 minutes on board, and what this meant for the way he approached the trails. This fieldwork forms part of a journal article we are writing together on affordances – a theory which attempts to explain how humans perceive and respond to action possibilities in relation to the environment.
We argue that mainstream applications of this theory need to better account for the impact of social and cultural factors on affordance perception, as well as the rapid speed at which our awareness of these action possibilities can update. We’ve recently published a handbook chapter discussing the affordances and anticipation, also using a case study from mountain biking, which may be of interest too. Please get in touch if you’d like to know more.
Header photo: Wayne hits the rock garden with new-found confidence (Kath Bicknell).