Understanding learning in competitive swimming as a complex phenomenon

Year: 2012

Author: Light, Richard

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The use of complex learning theory (CLT) to inform sport and physical education pedagogy (Davis & Sumara, 2003; Light, 2008) provides a means of accounting for the complexity of learning. It has been used to understand and enhance learning in and through games in physical education and team sports in youth sport where the game can be considered to be a complex phenomenon. More recent application of it to individual sports that can be seen to be technique-intensive presents a more difficult challenge in perceiving them to be complex phenomena. This is exacerbated by tensions that exist between CLT as an explanatory set of theories and the focus of complexity theory on the object of study as a complex system. This paper suggests that all learning can be, and should be, seen to be complex and even when the aim of teaching/coaching is on learning technique. From this perspective this presentation argues for pedagogy for coaching competitive swimming based upon a view of it as a complex phenomenon. From a mechanistic perspective learning to swim faster can be seen as a collection of separate, discrete and complicated techniques. However, understanding the subjective dimensions of this activity suggests that it is a complex phenomenon. The swimmer's execution of technique as an interpretative process and one in which the 'stroke' (freestyle, butterfly etc) cannot be broken up into component parts, his/her 'feel' for the water, his/her whole-person, lived experiences of learning while swimming and his/her connections with the water all suggest that learning to swim faster is a subjectively experienced, complex phenomenon.

Davis, B. & Sumara, D. (2003) 'Why aren't they getting this? Working through the regressive myths of constructivist pedagogy', Teaching Education, 14(2): 123-140.

Light, R. (2008a). '”Complex” learning theory in physical education: An examination of its epistemology and assumptions about how we learn', Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 27(1): 21-37