Is the role of cognition 'underplayed' in some theories of skill acquisition?

I'm a 'physedder' who by chance not by ambition, became an academic. As a 'physedder', its probably not a surprise that I mostly deal with the pragmatics of pedagogy in the work I do as an academic. I use theory to help explain pedagogical actions and their effects. It is important in the work that I now do to stay abreast of debates and developments in theory, because theories serve a useful purpose in explaining the effects of pedagogical actions by PE teachers and coaches. One podcast I find particularly useful as it presents a balanced discussion of skill acquisition concepts is the excellent Perception Action Podcast podcast by Rob Gray. In a recent episode, the work of John Toner and conscious awareness in expert performance was discussed. I will return to Toner's work later.

People familiar with my pedagogical work will recognise that I like the constraints-led theory as a contemporary explanation for the conditioning and modification of game environments for specific practice purposes - long established pedagogical actions of purposeful PE teachers and sport coaches. I find affordance theory a useful explanation for at action decision-making (for example, see Informing Game Sense Pedagogy with Constraints-Led Theory for Coaching in Australian Football and Informing the Coaching Pedagogy of Game Modification in a Game Sense Approach with Affordance Theory ). However, after reading about Action Specific Perception and Action Goals I wondered whether the role of cognition is underplayed in some theoretical explanations of a skill learning in the PE and sport coaching literature. The role of cognition and memory in learning, such as the role of brain activity like executive function and its contribution to sporting ability, needs consideration (for example, see Core Executive Functions are Associated with Success in Young Elite Soccer Players ). It was therefore with interest that I listened to Rob Gray explain the work of John Toner, and Toner's theory about the role calculative problem solving and analytical behaviour play in sporting situations during training and playing.

In a 2015 paper, Considering the Role of Cognitive Control in Expert Performance Toner, Montero and Moran, considered the possibility that expert performers' minds can consciously intervene positively, during competitive performance as well as in pre-performance rehearsal routines. In a more recent 2017 paper, Toner argued that it is the interaction of conscious learning and unconscious schemata that leads to the development of habitual reflexivity which allows skilled action to develop over time. This is now something I want to look into further.


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