Today we bring you a new series from Dynamic Correspondence Sports Training’s Jeff Moyer. Jeff is a fantastic practitioner and a great student of athlete preparation. This is the first of many great pieces for all of us. I am really happy to have Jeff with us, helping bring great info to our readers. For more on Jeff and DC Sports Training visit http://www.dcsportstraining.com
Skill acquisition: A practitioner’s perspective – Part 1
“Sport is the art of movement. Our job is to improve movement.”
– Dr. Natalia Verkhoshansky
Whether it’s increasing strength, power, speed, conditioning, mobility, or flexibility, everything we do is geared towards improving the athlete’s performance in competition.
In order for an athlete to play a sport, they must first learn the rules and movements of the sport. Sport movements are not simple actions; they are complex motor skills that are finalized to solve motor tasks. Skill acquisition is the development of goal-oriented movements, which are learned and specific to tasks that are required in sports. How well the athletes are able to demonstrate their skills is based on how well developed their complex motor skill are (technique) and their physical abilities (motor potential) as it relates to their technique (Specific motor potential). Therefore, the essence of our work consists of increasing the efficiency and speed of human movement, and the movement skills that constitute the competitive activity in a given sport.
“Skill Acquisition is the science that underpins movement learning and execution…more commonly termed motor learning and control.”
Within the strength and conditioning industry there has been a lot of grumblings amongst coaches in the United States: lack of quality physical education in schools, over specialization too quickly, and younger athletes who are more sedentary. No matter how imperfect our system is, within athletic development the fact still remains that athletes need to perform in their sports. In my opinion, within the realm of athletic development, physical preparation coaches should include the development of skill acquisition and, more specifically, coaches should include exercises that specifically develop and assist in the improvement of sport techniques. As the level of the athlete increases, so too must there be an increase in the efficiency and speed of the movement skill.
“One shouldn’t speak of strength in the general but only in the context of the movement task and the character of the realization of this movement task.”
– Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky
Technical analysis, motor control, motor development and motor learning: these are all very complex issues that many people would prefer to not write about in a simple way because the theories and science are continuously evolving. Within vast textbooks it is not easy to express these areas in a simplistic manner. However, this series of articles will attempt to provide an overview of:
– Aspects of technique analysis, motor control, motor learning
– Give practical examples of two various mechanical issues
“Biomechanical analysis can be linked to effective training exercises only if it is combined with an understanding of motor learning and control.” – Frans Bosch
Technique analysis is a term given to an analytical method of assessing how movement skills (more particularly sport skills) are performed and through this understanding provide the basis for improved performance. Technique analysis is an umbrella term that encompasses the fields of sports biomechanics and kinesiology.
Sports biomechanics is the study and analysis of human movement patterns in sport. The subject of biomechanics has dense backgrounds in mathematics, engineering, and physics. This study of the body looks at the internal and external forces that act on the body and the movements that these forces produce.
A typical biomechanical analysis of sport movements, like throwing and running, are usually performed based off of a comparative analysis of that movement pattern of what should be done. As a practitioner, understanding forces, torques, velocity, types of motion, force absorption, force distribution, Newton’s laws, etc… should all have fundamental relevance in what we do. However, that still doesn’t leave us much in the way of specific practical application with improving skill acquisition.
In comparison, a QUALATATIVE technical analysis is specific to an individual with how they are executing the movement pattern, and will bring out the strong and weak points of those individual athletes’ movement skills. Where and what joint actions are effective? Ineffective? Is the error due to poor technical learning? Is the error from poor technical application into a sport situation? Is the error due to physical limitations? (Strength, speed, mobility, stability, etc…) Can the joint action(s) that are involved in XYZ actions be improved with physical exercises or with technical exercises? Could the athlete’s actions lead to injury? (As technique plays a very large role in non-contact related injuries)
What is left out of the of the comparative sports technique analysis is the understanding and explanations of what joint actions occur, the sequencing of their actions, the muscles that are involved, and where/how they are involved in the sports movement.
I believe that with the ability to perform a quantitative technical analysis and understanding how to answer these questions better allows physical preparation coaches to make better decisions in the physical and technical development of their athletes. In order to perform a technical analysis of sports movements, the coach must have a thorough understanding of what constitutes effective technique.
The use of slow motion video allows the coach to thoroughly analyze his/her athletes rather than just relying on the naked eye, because at high speeds it is near impossible for a coach to see everything that is going on at each joint action. Video analysis can come in handy in order to spot such actions. Not every coach or program has a 1000frames per second camera; however, just about every coach has a smart phone that has a decent camera. Apps such as Coaches Eye, Ubersense and others are cheap and easy to use for coaches to film their athlete or athletes and watch the video in slow motion. In a team setting, I have used the Coaches Eye app to video my football team sprinting. I was able later to watch in slow motion and could keep rewinding in order to watch each athlete and make notes so that I could give them individual points and cues in the next training session.
Technique Analysis Recommend Resources:
– Any and of the books by Dr. Michael Yessis
– Any and all issues of the Soviet Sport Reviews
– Coaches Eye app
– Ubersense app
Hard Skills & Soft Skills:
The term ‘motor skill’ usually refers to those skills in which both the movement and the outcome of action are emphasized. Within the context of sport technique (complex motor skills), these complex motor skills can be broken down into two types of skills that should be taken into consideration during the dynamics of the skill acquisition process: hard skills and soft skills.
Hard skills are the optimal mechanics in an ideal situation. They are the foundation of the sports movement. To take a page out of Daniel Coyle’s book The Little Book of Talent, hard skills need to be built like a technician in order to ensure that you are connecting the right wires. “Neurologists call this the ‘sled on a snowy hill’ phenomenon. The first repetitions are like the first sled tracks on fresh snow: On subsequent tries, your sled will tend to follow those grooves.” Hard skills should be built with precision and measured, perfecting and repeating them before you move onto the next piece. The hard truth about building the hard skills is that it is not very fun as it takes deliberate practice in order to master them. Errors should not be allowed because hard skills are difficult to break.
Soft skills are how the hard skills are incorporated into task & environmental situations. These skills can be developed with a number of motor control/motor learning strategies such as with a Constraints-Led approach, where situations are presented to the athlete and they must figure out how to solve them. “Soft skills are built by playing and exploring inside challenging, ever-changing environments. These are places where you encounter different obstacles and respond to them over and over, building the network of sensitive wiring you need to read, recognize, and react”
– Precise and measured
– Use of cognitive and perceptual skills
A hard skill is a quarterback standing and throwing a ball with proper fundamental mechanics. A soft skill for a quarterback is how he throws a pass based on his perception of the receiver running his route and the positioning of the defensive players.
As physical preparation coaches (practitioners), we must take science and theories and use them in practical ways that will help to develop our athletes. If our job is to improve our athlete’s skill performance, we must first begin by looking at their movements.
As coaches, with all of the various theories and science that is out there, how can we use it to better improve our athlete’s sport performance? Having an understanding of biomechanics, motor control and motor learning are fantastic, however if you are unable to apply this knowledge into practical use with your athletes, what good is it?
I believe that by assessing the hard and soft skills using a qualitative technical analysis, coaches are able to move forward in selecting correct types of motor control/motor learning strategies, as well as choosing exercises that specifically develop and assist in the improvement of sport techniques.
In part 2 of this Skill Acquisition series, I will take a brief look at the history and various theories of Motor Control.
 Motor Skill – a learned sequence of movements that combine to produce a smooth, efficient action in order to master a particular task  Dr. Natalia Verkhoshansky. “Key Points to keep in Mind Before Applying SST Means in the Training Process.” www.cvsaps.com (2012)  Terry McMorris. Skill Acquisition and Performance of Sport Skills. Wiley Blackwell. 2014  Williams & Ford, 2009  Adrian Lees “Technique Analysis in sports: a critical review.” Journal of Sport Sciences, 2002, 20, 813-828  Roger Bartlett. Introduction to Sports Biomechanics: Analyzing Human Movement Patterns.. 2007  K.M. Newell “Motor Skill Acquisition.” Annual Review Psychology. 1991  Daniel Coyle, The Little Book of Talent. 2012
Jeff Graduated in 2004 from Hartwick College where he was a two sport athlete (Football & Track & Field). Jeff has been a sport coach (Basketball & Football) at the youth, JV, Varsity and College level for football for over 10years. Jeff has been in the strength in conditioning industry for over a decade, having worked in the medical, private, team, high school and collegiate settings, training clients from youth development, to rehabilitation and sport performance.
Jeff has a relentless passion for all things physical preparation. His pedagogy is heavily influenced by Eastern Bloc sport science. Jeff has been very fortunate to have spent time with and studied under Dr. Michael Yessis, Yosef Johnson of Ultimate Athlete Concepts, Dr. Natalia Verkhoshansky, Mike Woicik of the Dallas Cowboys, Dave Tate of EliteFTS and Louie Simmons of Wesitside Barbell.
Jeff has numerous published articles, podcasts and videos for various websites and publications.