Intentions, Perceptions and Actions Constrain Functional Intra- and Inter-Individual Variability in the Acquisition of Expertise in Individual Sports

Ludovic Seifert*, 1, Keith Davids2
1 Centre d’Etude des Transformations des Activités Physiques et Sportives (CETAPS) - EA 3832, University of Rouen, Faculty of Sports Sciences, France
2 School of Human Movement Studies, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

© 2012 Seifert et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the CETAPS, University of Rouen, Faculty of Sports Sciences Bld Siegfried, 76821 Mont Saint Aignan Cedex, France; Tel: (33)-2 32 10 77 84; Fax: (33)-2 32 10 77 93; E-mail:


Expertise in sport results from the adaptation of behavoirbehavoir to interacting constraints, individually per-ceived and encountered. With this emphasis on intentionality, perception and action to constrain behavoirbehavoir, the role of movement pattern stability, functional intra-individual and inter-individual performance variability is paramount. Here we illustrate these ideas with reference to two individual performance environments: ice climbing and breaststroke swimming. In ice climbing, compared to beginners, expert climbers exhibited greater levels of variability in upper- and lower-limb coordination patterns, exploring a larger range of limb positions and movement types (ice tool swinging, ice hole hooking). Ice fall properties contain affordances that induced variable motor coordination patterns in expert climbers, whereas learners used a basic and functionally stable motor organization to achieve their main goal of maintaining body equilibrium with respect to gravity. In swimming, while learners organized their limbs to advance in the water, their main intention was to balance, float, breathe, and perceive information. For these reasons they typically adopted one stable (in-phase) mode of arm-leg coordination whatever the swim speed. In contrast, experts harnessed available environmental and organismic constraints (strength, flexibility relative to aquatic resistance and the Archimedes principle) to satisfy a key performance constraint (swim fast). To achieve this aim, they varied the arm-leg coordination mode within a stroke cycle and swim speed. Together these data illustrate how functional performance in sport is predicated on the intertwined rela-tionship between intentions, actions and perceptions of each individual, requiring a blend of stable and variable movement patterns to satisfy changing task constraints.

Keywords: Movement Pattern Variability, stability, Expertise, Inter-limb coordination, Degeneracy, Adaptability.