Systematic Athletic Development Principle Three - Train fundamental movement skills before sport specific skills
Effective athletic development is based upon the principle of the development of fundamental movement skill before specific sport skill. Today athletes at all levels are lacking fundamental movement skills. They are a product of a society that has become more and more sedentary. There is no longer mandatory physical education to provide a foundation of movement skills. There is less free play and more organized sport activity. The net effect of all of this is a significant decline in fundamental movement skills. Although I cannot prove it I do speculate that this is a contributing to the alarming rise of injuries we see in sport today.
A sound athletic development program is founded on the basic locomotor skills developed to their highest level. These fundamental skills must be incorporated into the athlete’s daily training program regardless of the level of development. As the athletes progresses in training age and skill development fundamental skills should assume proportionally less of the training time. However I do find it ironic that in my work with elite athletes that I still must spend a good portion of their training on fundamental movements because they never acquired these skills as part of their foundation. Instead they specialized early and refined their specific sport skills.
Fundamental movement skills fall into three broad categories:
1) Locomotor skills as the name implies are the skills that get us from place to place. It encompasses the spectrum of the gait cycle from walking, to running, to sprinting. It also includes swimming in order to move in the aquatic medium. In its most rudimentary forms it includes crawling.
2) Stability skills are those movements executed with minimal or no movement of the base of support. Balance is a key element. It is an important foundation of many sports skills especially those encompassing finer motor patterns.
3) Manipulative skills. This is simply control of objects with the hands or the feet. The application to sport skill is obvious. In our society the emphasis in manipulative skill is on work with the hands to the exclusion of the feet. This is a deficiency that must be addressed in a sports development program. Throwing and striking skills fall into this category. Better awareness and use of the lower extremities will pay rich dividends.
In order to effectively transfer (translate) the broad movement categories into refined movement patterns we need movement awareness. Movement awareness consists of those abilities necessary to conceptualize and formulate an effective response to sensory information necessary to perform a desired task or motor skill. This is FUNdamental work. It should be fun and mental in that it requires concentration. In order to train the components of movement awareness it is best to create an environment where the athlete is given a task orientation. This means that the athlete is given movement problems to solve that will enable them to discover movement skills in a “play like” environment. “… one goal of functional training is to practice movements in order to make them automatic. Second, even though accomplished athletes may have little idea of what they focus on during skill execution, at some conscious or subconscious level they are focusing on relevant cues. For this reason, Singer et al advocated that skilled motor performance could be best achieved if learners adopt a non-awareness type strategy. Non-awareness refers to a lack of attention placed on the activity while it is in progress, but learners are instructed to preplan the movement and focus on a specific situational cue. “ (Ives and Shelley p180) Non-awareness means having the athlete focus on solving a particular movement task rather than focusing on how they should move “correctly.” Movement is natural; by making it conscious there is a high risk of making it robotic.
Most of movement awareness activities can be addressed daily as part of structured warm-up. Structured in the sense that the thought and planning should be put into the sequence and timing of the activities, not the step-by-step orchestration or choreographing of the movement. The later would defeat the purpose. The goal is to create an environment where the athlete can cultivate as rich a repertoire of motor skills to draw upon as a foundation for specific sport skill. ”Rigorously defining proper form and the use of mechanical stabilization and anti cheating aids excessively constrain athletes exploration and problem solving movements, and bear little resemblance to what occurs in athletic performance.” (Ives and Shelley p182)
The components of movement awareness are:
Ultimately, what links this into a complete functional program is proprioception. Proprioception is awareness of joint position derived from feedback in the sense receptors in the joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles. It is a highly trainable quality. It is almost too simple. We must strive to constantly change proprioceptive demand throughout the training program. In fact this variable should be manipulated more frequently than change in exercise mode or change of exercise because it adapts so rapidly.
Ives, Jeffrey C. and Shelley, Greg A. “Psychophysics in Functional Strength and Training: Review and Implementation Framework.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Vol. 17 #1 pp 177 -186
Todd, Mabel E. The Thinking Body. Princeton Book Company Publishers. Highston, NJ. 1937