Game: Colts at Bills
Play: The real Shady shows slippery moves to stand out in the snow
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
The thing that makes this blog wonderful for me is within each week I get to analyze players attempting to solve lots of various movement problems under diverse, constantly-changing environmental conditions. This unpredictability is one of the coolest aspects of NFL football sport movement behavior. Why? Well, to me, this is unlike many other professional sports where, though the task constraints may differ highly, the environmental constraints often stay relatively similar. In NBA basketball, the court is always close to the same type of stickiness. In the NHL, ice is ice (for the most part) and they don’t change temperatures of the arena from game to game. In MLB, if it rains, the game gets delayed. Note: I am not dumb to the fact that there are still plenty of other environmental constraints entering the mix besides the surface and weather conditions that could change the interaction between the problem and the solution.
As we will expand upon later, one of the truest tests of an individual’s movement skill is to place it under various conditions and see if the individual can still adequately come up with an effective solution. Arguably, there hasn’t been a better test taker in this regards than current Buffalo Bill RB LeSean “Shady” McCoy. Shady was our very first Mover of the Year way back in 2013 while being a member of the Philadelphia Eagles when it was very apparent that his movement was built off of a highly diverse movement toolbox.
In week 14 of that very same season, McCoy and his Eagles found themselves in a snowy contest versus the Detroit Lions where I marveled at his ability to adapt his movement behaviors to the ever-changing weather conditions.
Ironically enough, here we are again, another snowy week 14 in an NFL season, now four seasons later, and Shady is out there still doing the exact same thing!
What happened movement-wise on the play?
During our breakdowns here for most weeks, we normally analyze a singular play or even one local piece of the athlete’s solution puzzle where a player’s movement characteristics shined bright in comparison to their peers. This week, the entire body of work that our first-ever Mover of the Year put together across Sunday’s snowy afternoon in Buffalo was worthy of this type of lens being turned onto it.
My hero in the movement behavior field, the late and great Nikolai Bernstein, once stated (1967): “Dexterity, that is, the capacity to solve a motor problem – correctly, quickly, rationally, and resourcefully. Dexterity is finding a motor solution for any situation and in any condition.” With this being the case, I believe that dexterity is the hallmark of movement skill that could be deemed worthy of being associated with the word, masterful.
If you have followed this blog for any period of time, you have probably routinely and repeatedly heard me utter words like attunement, adaptation, perception-action coupling, and affordances for action. Well, when you throw a snowstorm into the mix, for even the highest level of qualification of movers (i.e. those that reside in the NFL), the exact application of those concepts (attunement, etc) gets changed considerably. Meaning, the way that the individual’s human movement system coordinates and controls his respective movement skills is going to be constrained (or possibly invited) based on what the environment gives him. The sensory feeling at the foot obviously changes and thus so does one’s connection to the ground (the foot-surface interaction) and foot plant-ability (base of support position, etc), among many other factors (e.g. force development, speed characteristics). Because of this, certain patterns and moves in one’s movement skill toolbox become more or less available depending on the individual’s ability to co-adapt based on what he perceives.
This issue is what makes the perception-action coupling and the constant problem solving that the most masterful movers perform as the environment changes so damn important. And of course, Shady puts this highly attuned and adaptable skill on display for us today from his performance in week 14. Go take a peek at this video to see the awesome, expert-filled Shady performance.
Now, while watching, a few things jump off the screen to me as it pertains to both where Shady had advantages and disadvantages based on the conditions at-hand. These advantages/disadvantages then contribute to the specific affordances for action that he would experience as he attempts to solve the problems present on each play.
- He knows where he is going!
When the conditions significantly change like this especially at the surface (inches upon inches of snow constitutes as significant), the advantage almost always goes to the offensive player. This is the case because the offensive player has an idea on where he wants to go and the defensive player is just trying to react according to this and sometimes is essentially just along for the ride. Thus, movement solution freedom (where he can go and how he can go that way that he selects) is enhanced for Shady. He is the one in the problem-solution connection who is in most control of speed and timing and because of that, he owns the spatial demands!
The NFL’s most elite, masterful movers typically have more movement solutions in their toolbox even if they are behaviors and patterns that aren’t as stable or solidified as other patterns that they may possess. In ‘Ecological Dynamics’ terms they display a high amount of degeneracy. This is the fancy way of saying that they have numerous potential ways to solve typical movement problems. This ‘way’, may not always be optimal, but it’s a potential option and when other guys are just out there just don’t have as many to match, you get a significant advantage. This is why we see Shady on the video out there rather casually hurdling guys and breaking down in more subtle ways (as opposed to the normal more rapid, violent fashions on a harder surface) while displaying more balance while others on the opposite side of this relationship have to try to correspond with what they already know (faster decelerations with wider base and sharper angles) that no longer match the needs of the environment (so we see them falling or being out of control).
- The Colts are wearing all white while the Bills are wearing all red!
Some may scoff at this, but while you watch the video just try to pick out each of the Colt defenders as they rapidly move through space. Pattern recognition is much more difficult when the patterns of each of the defenders will already be changing based on the weather conditions; pattern recognition is much, MUCH more difficult when that opponent is basically wearing camouflage and it’s hard to even see them!
- Shady has to go away from what often times is considered “more optimal” agility technique! (Okay, usually this is determined during ‘change-of-direction’ tasks rather than agility tasks)
Because of the conditions, Shady can’t get into his normal positions and execute through his normal patterns (and combinations of those patterns). Meaning, we don’t see his usual base of support variability and/or sharp eccentric loading on this past Sunday. Yes; obviously everyone has to operate under the same field conditions here. So, why is this actually a disadvantage for Shady? Well, as part of his movement arsenal, he possesses solidified options which require him to get lower, wider, and more coiled than most of his defensive peers. Though Shady’s movement patterns aren’t Barry Sanders-esqe in the form that he gets as wide and slicing (a topic that I have explicitly addressed on this blog before when people over the years have tried to compare the two), those are still more preferred states for him than they are for most of his defensive counterparts.