Ecological dynamics approach in physical education to promote cognitive skills development A review

Main Article Content

Silvia Coppola
Cristiana D'Anna
Valeria Minghelli
Rodolfo Vastola


The aim of this paper is to carry out a theoretical transposition of the principles of the ecological dynamic approach in the field of physical and sports education, aimed at defining educational approaches capable of promoting an effective acquisition of cognitive skills, through the practice of physical activity and sport. Physical education, according to an ecological dynamics perspective, considers the performer a complex adaptive system, which interacts with the environments in a functionally integrated way, underlining the interrelationship between motor processes, cognitive and perceptive functions. The cognitive area of Life Skills (Cognitive Life Skills, CLS), divided by the WHO, into decision making, problem solving, creative thinking and critical thinking processes, can be framed as an intrinsic part of goal-directed behaviour influenced by functional constraints determined by individual-environment interaction. Therefore, physical and sport activity practiced according to the principles of the ecological dynamic approach can be configured as an elective tool to promote the development of cognitive skills. In this article, the relevant theories of ecological dynamics are discussed and recent empirical data on the perceptual-cognitive processes which are activated through the practice of physical education and sport are described to underline the potential of such practices for the development of cognitive skills. The development of this specific theoretical transposition represents a starting point for the definition and experimentation of ecological dynamic interventions designed with the aim of investigating the effects of physical and sporting activity on the development of cognitive skills for life.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Coppola, S., D'Anna, C., Minghelli, V., & Vastola, R. (2024). Ecological dynamics approach in physical education to promote cognitive skills development: A review. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise , 19(3), 792-802.
Review Paper
Author Biographies

Silvia Coppola, University of Salerno

Department of Human Sciences, Philosophy & Education.

Cristiana D'Anna, Pegaso University

Department of Human Sciences, Education and Sport.

Valeria Minghelli, University of Salerno

Department of Human Sciences, Philosophy & Education.

Rodolfo Vastola, University of Salerno

Department of Human, Philosophical & Educational Sciences.

How to Cite

Coppola, S., D'Anna, C., Minghelli, V., & Vastola, R. (2024). Ecological dynamics approach in physical education to promote cognitive skills development: A review. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise , 19(3), 792-802.


Adolph, K. E., & Hoch, J. E. (2019). Motor development: Embodied, embedded, enculturated, and enabling. Annual review of psychology, 70, 141-164.

Araújo, D., Brito, H., & Carrilho, D. (2023). Team decision-making behavior: An ecological dynamics approach. Asian Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 3(1), 24-29.

Araújo, D., Hristovski, R., Seifert, L., Carvalho, J., & Davids, K. (2019). Ecological cognition: expert decision-making behaviour in sport. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 12(1), 1-25.

Araújo, D., Davids, K., & Renshaw, I. (2020). Cognition, emotion and action in sport: an ecological dynamics perspective. Handbook of sport psychology, 535-555.

Bernstein NA. 1996. On dexterity and its development. In Dexterity and Its Development, ed. ML Latash, MT Turvey, pp. 3-244. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc.

Barsalou, L. W. (2008). Grounded cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 617-645.

Ballester, R., Huertas, F., Pablos-Abella, C., Llorens, F., & Pesce, C. (2019). Chronic participation in externally paced, but not self-paced sports is associated with the modulation of domain-general cognition. European journal of sport science, 19(8), 1110-1119.

Bean, C., Kramers, S., Forneris, T., & Camiré, M. (2018). The implicit/explicit continuum of life skills development and transfer. Quest, 70(4), 456-470.

Caruana, F., & Borghi, A. M. (2013). Embodied Cognition: una nuova psicologia. Giornale italiano di psicologia, 40(1), 23-48.

Chow, J. (2013). Nonlinear Learning Underpinning Pedagogy: Evidence, Challenges, and Implications. In Quest, 65, pp. 469- 484.

Chow, J. Y., Shuttleworth, R., Davids, K., & Araújo, D. (2019). Ecological dynamics and transfer from practice to performance in sport. Skill acquisition in sport, 330-344.

Chow, J.Y., Davids, K., Renshaw, I., Rudd, J. (2020). Nonlinear Pedagogy. In: Peters, M., Heraud, R. (eds) Encyclopedia of Educational Innovation. Springer, Singapore.

Coppola, S., Vastola, R., Scatigna, M., & Fabiani, L. (2014). Training and health in gymnastics. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise, 10(1proc), 391-398.

Coppola, S., & Vastola, R. (2019). Health Pedagogy and Sport: Attitudes and Practices of Gymnastics Coaches. Journal of Sports Science, 7, 115-122.

Coppola, S., Romano, B., Albano, D., & Vastola, R. (2021). Training in young athletes: Ecological dynamics approach. Journal of Human Sport & Exercise, 16(49, 1563-1577.

Correia, V., Carvalho, J., Araújo, D., Pereira, E., & Davids, K. (2019). Principles of nonlinear pedagogy in sport practice. Physical education and sport pedagogy, 24(2), 117-132.

Czyż, S. H., & Coker, C. A. (2023). An applied model for using variability in practice. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 17479541231159473.

Davids, K., & Rudd, J. (2021). Time for a Rethink: Why a New Approach to Physical Literacy Is Needed. In Nonlinear Pedagogy and the Athletic Skills Model (pp. 5-19). Routledge.

Davids, K., Glazier, P., Araújo, D., & Bartlett, R. (2003). Movement systems as dynamical systems: the functional role of variability and its implications for sports medicine. Sports medicine, 33, 245-260.

Davids, K., Araújo, D., Hristovski, R., Passos, P., & Chow, J. Y. (2012). Ecological dynamics and motor learning design in sport. Skill acquisition in sport: Research, theory and practice, 112-130.

Davids, K., Araújo, D., Vilar, L., Renshaw, I., & Pinder, R. (2013). An ecological dynamics approach to skill acquisition: Implications for development of talent in sport. Talent Development and Excellence, 5(1), 21-34.

Forte, P., Pugliese, E., Ambretti, A., & D'Anna, C. (2023). Physical Education and Embodied Learning: A Review. Sport Mont, 21(3).

Furley, P., Memmert, D., & Schmid, S. (2013). Perceptual load in sport and the heuristic value of the perceptual load paradigm in examining expertise-related perceptual-cognitive adaptations. Cognitive processing, 14, 31-42.

Glenberg, A. M., Witt, J. K., & Metcalfe, J. (2013). From the revolution to embodiment: 25 years of cognitive psychology. Perspectives on psychological science, 8(5), 573-585.

Goudas, M. (2010). Prologue: A review of life skills teaching in sport and physical education. Hellenic Journal of Psychology, 7(3), 241-258.

Goudas M., Dermitzaki E., Leondari A. & Danish S. (2006). The effectiveness of teaching a life skills program in a physical education context. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 21, 429-438.

Hepler, T. J., & Feltz, D. L. (2012). Take the first heuristic, self-efficacy, and decision-making in sport. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 18(2), 154.

Hermens, N., Super, S., Verkooijen, K. T., & Koelen, M. A. (2017). A systematic review of life skill development through sports programs serving socially vulnerable youth. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 88(4), 408-424.

Holt, N. L., Neely, K. C., Slater, L. G., Camiré, M., Côté, J., Fraser-Thomas, J., ... & Tamminen, K. A. (2017). A grounded theory of positive youth development through sport based on results from a qualitative meta-study. International review of sport and exercise psychology, 10(1), 1-49.

Holt, N. L., Deal, C. J., & Pankow, K. (2020). Positive youth development through sport. Handbook of sport psychology, 429-446.

Kendellen, K., & Camire, M. (2019). Applying in life the skills learned in sport: A grounded theory. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 40, 23-32.

Kugler, A.N., Kelso, J.A. & Turvey, M.T. (1982). On the control and coordination of naturally developing systems. In J. A. S. Kelso & J. E. Clark (Eds.). The development of movement control and coordination, 5-78. New York: Wiley.

Mahon, B. Z. (2015). What is embodied about cognition?. Language, cognition and neuroscience, 30(4), 420-429.

Matsankos, N., Gargalianos, D., Coppola, S., Vastola, R., & Petromilli, A. (2020). Investigation of skills acquired by athletes during their sporting career. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise, 15(3): 489-501.

Meloni, M., & Reynolds, J. (2021). Thinking embodiment with genetics: epigenetics and postgenomic biology in embodied cognition and enactivism. Synthese, 198(11), 10685-10708.

Minghelli V., Coppola S., (2023) from observation to educational design: the video modeling in the training of physical education teachers, Giornale Italiano di Educazione alla Salute, Sport e Didattica Inclusiva - Italian Journal of Health Education, Sports and Inclusive Didactics. Anno 7, V 1. Edizioni Universitarie Roman

Minghelli, V., D'anna, C., & Vastola, R. (2023). A biopsychosocial approach to plan inclusive learning environments in physical education. Journal of Physical Education and Sport, 23(9), 2492-2502.

Newell, KM. (1986). Constraints on the development of coordination. In: MG Wade and HTA Whiting (eds) Motor development in children: aspects of coordination and control. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, pp.341-360.

Pesce, C., Croce, R., Ben-Soussan, T. D., Vazou, S., McCullick, B., Tomporowski, P. D., & Horvat, M. (2019). Variability of practice as an interface between motor and cognitive development. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17(2), 133-152.

Papacharisis, V., Goudas, M., Danish, S. J., & Theodorakis, Y. (2005). The effectiveness of teaching a life skills program in a sport context. Journal of applied sport psychology, 17(3), 247-254.

Pierce, S., Gould, D., & Camiré, M. (2017). Definition and model of life skills transfer. International review of sport and exercise psychology, 10(1), 186-211.

Preatoni, E., Ferrario, M., Donà, G., Hamill, J., & Rodano, R. (2010). Motor variability in sports: a non-linear analysis of race walking. Journal of sports sciences, 28(12), 1327-1336.

Preatoni, E., Hamill, J., Harrison, A. J., Hayes, K., Van Emmerik, R. E., Wilson, C., & Rodano, R. (2013). Movement variability and skills monitoring in sports. Sports biomechanics, 12(2), 69-92.

Renshaw, I., Davids, K., Araújo, D., Lucas, A., Roberts, W. M., Newcombe, D. J., & Franks, B. (2019). Evaluating weaknesses of "perceptual-cognitive training" and "brain training" methods in sport: An ecological dynamics critique. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 2468.

Renshaw, I., Davids, K., O'Sullivan, M., Maloney, M. A., Crowther, R., & McCosker, C. (2022). An ecological dynamics approach to motor learning in practice: Reframing the learning and performing relationship in high performance sport. Asian Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 2(1), 18-26.

Romano, B., Albano, D., & Coppola, S. (2022). The manipulation of constraints to train the complexity of soccer: the small sided conditioned games. Giornale Italiano di Educazione alla Salute, Sport e Didattica Inclusiva, 6(1).

Romano, B., Coppola, S., & Vastola, R. (2023). The Declination Of The Dynamic Ecological Approach In The Teaching And Evaluation Of Motor And Sports Education Interventions In The Developmental Age. Giornale Italiano di Educazione alla Salute, Sport e Didattica Inclusiva, 7(2).

Rudd J.R., Pesce C., Strafford B.W. & Davids K. (2020). Physical Literacy - A Journey of Individual Enrichment: An Ecological Dynamics Rationale for Enhancing Performance and Physical Activity in All. Front. Psychol. 11:1904.

Seifert, L., & Davids, K. (2012). Intentions, perceptions and actions constrain functional intra-and inter-individual variability in the acquisition of expertise in individual sports. The Open Sports Sciences Journal, 5(1).

Shapiro, L. (2010). Embodied cognition. New York: Routledge.

Shapiro, L., & Stolz, S. A. (2019). Embodied cognition and its significance for education. Theory and Research in Education, 17(1), 19-39.

Silva, P., Garganta, J., Araújo, D., Davids, K., & Aguiar, P. (2013). Shared knowledge or shared affordances? Insights from an ecological dynamics approach to team coordination in sports. Sports medicine, 43, 765-772.

Silva, P., Duarte, R., Esteves, P., Travassos, B., & Vilar, L. (2016). Application of entropy measures to analysis of performance in team sports. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 16(2), 753-768.

Super, S., Verkooijen, K., & Koelen, M. (2018). The role of community sports coaches in creating optimal social conditions for life skill development and transferability-a salutogenic perspective. Sport, education and society, 23(2), 173-185.

Thelen, E. & Smith, LB. (1994) A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and action. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.

Varela, F.J., Thompson, E., Rosch, E. (1991) The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge MIT Press.

Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (2017). The embodied mind, revised edition: Cognitive science and human experience. MIT press.

Wilson, M. (2002). Six views of embodied cognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9, 625-636.

World Health Organization, Division of Mental Health, and Prevention of Substance Abuse. 1993. Life Skills Education for Children and Adolescents in Schools. Geneva: WHO Division of Mental Health.

World Health Organization. 2020. Life Skills Education School Handbook: Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Similar Articles

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.

Most read articles by the same author(s)