Wax On, Wax Off! Habits, Sport Skills, and Motor Intentionality

Topoi 40 (3):609-622 (2020)
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What role does habit formation play in the development of sport skills? We argue that motor habits are both necessary for and constitutive of sensorimotor skill as they support an automatic, yet inherently intelligent and flexible, form of action control. Intellectualists about skills generally assume that what makes action intelligent and flexible is its intentionality, and that intentionality must be necessarily cognitive in nature to allow for both deliberation and explicit goal-representation. Against Intellectualism we argue that the habitual behaviours that compose skilful action are accompanied by their specific, non-cognitive form of intentionality: this is motor intentionality, which is purposive and adaptive while involving no explicit deliberation or goal representation. Our account of habit based on Motor Intentionality explains why the formation of motor habits can sometimes act as the sole basis of skilful acquisition: Motor Intentionality is inherently purposeful because it is an embodied source of sensorimotor anticipation, pre-reflective motivation, and pragmatic know-how. Skill development through exercise always builds on a motor intentional component even when it is guided by Deliberate Practice to the point that, pace Intellectualism, Deliberate Practice is disclosed, not constrained, by habit formation. As suggested by the fact that repetitive exercises can play a major role in the development of flexible and intelligent sport skills, automatism is not a drawback for strategic control and improvisation but rather their pragmatic foundation.

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Author Profiles

Katsunori Miyahara
Hokkaido University
Massimiliano Cappuccio
University of New South Wales

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