Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Elephant in the Room: Motor Control Theory

Biomechanics has been criticized at times by coaches and others because all too often, biomechanics research is done through a strict lens of observation. It’s describes for us what is happening, but not why. To many a coach and athlete, they want to know about the why so they can do something about it for a better result.

In sports performance training there are often arguments that go along the same lines, “that research only tells me what I already know, not how to get an athlete better.” Arguments over whether teaching technique matter and whether the focus is on kinetics or kinematics go on and on.

Some traditional strength coaches argue that all you need to do to get faster is increase strength & power, while the track coach argues back the focus should be technique. Then among different strength coaches we start seeing the arguments over whether you need heavy Olympic lifts and squats or “corrective” and “functional” exercises.

There’s an elephant in the room that no one seems to acknowledge. MOTOR CONTROL.

Athletics is very heavily dominated by movement skill. That means motor control plain and simple! Whether it’s speed and agility, or precision in throwing, catching or kicking. How we use our physical capacities and manage the dynamic movement challenges in a sport environment, are a question solved by motor control.

So why doesn’t anybody talk about it? It would provide the critical framework for many of these important discussions. It should be a lens through which much of our training methods are filtered.

It’s true that motor control is a much less developed field in many ways than physiology. Biomechanics is also more developed because we have a lot of methods to observe and describe movement. A bigger challenge is that the predominant approach to modern science has been through a reductionist point of view. In this view, we try to understand the whole, by learning about the parts. The complex interactions in human movement in a sporting environment do not always effectively lend themselves to this type of analysis.

I still would place some blame on our education system. Whenever I speak to strength or performance coaches, sports coaches, or trainers, I ask the group who has had even a single class in motor control. We only get about half. When asked who has had more than 1 class, it drops dramatically. If asked who has been introduced to something other than general motor program or schema theory or has heard of dynamical systems theory, its maybe 1 or 2 in the room.

That’s a problem. The very coaches, who are out there training MOVEMENT, have very little education in the theory of motor control.

Another problem is that we aren’t educating coaches any more. Coaches aren’t coming out with physical education degrees that included motor control and coaching pedagogy. Education has moved to kinesiology and exercise science as majors, and most strength and performance majors don’t learn motor control beyond the rudimentary basics.

I also have to blame the coaches. Why aren’t they demanding better answers? If you are out there coaching movement, be it speed, agility or sports skills, you should be thinking about motor control. How does it work? If you haven’t thought about this, WHAT ARE YOU DOING and WHY?

I had struggled with these questions through my graduate studies, because what I saw and did everyday coaching, didn’t match many of the motor control concepts I was being presented. When I discovered that there were other approaches to motor control, I saw how they nullified many of the silly debates in our field and gave a whole new perspective to others.

I am going to be writing more this month on motor control, but here are some places to start;
• Sport review article
• Athletic Insight: Chaos Theory

• Progress in Motor Control

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Check point

If you decided you were going to improve as a coach this year, how are you doing?

Time flies whether you're having fun or not, and things like improving professionally are easier to get put to the side when the rigors of coaching and the rest of life come up.

The year year is half over and its a good time to look at what you have accomplished so far and what the next goals are.

Have you attended any seminars or conferences so far and what will you do in the second half?

What books? What books that are about something other than coaching?

Have you made your list of 100 experts that you could learn from to become a better coach?

Have you found a mentor coach or an expert you can observe while coaching?

I've been working hard myself to keep myself on top of some specifics projects myself. I've been trying to complete some research on the affects of different loads on sled work during acceleration.

I understand its not easy, but if you truly want to become a master coach, you better figure out where you are at and where you are going this year?