Respecting the movement problem

It’s hard to believe I’ve now been analyzing and discussing the movement execution of NFL players publicly on this blog for the past five years. When looking back at the points of emphasis within my breakdowns (whether it’s in the ‘plays of the week’ or in individual player movement analyses) over that time, I am proud to say it’s also easy to see the evolution of my movement skill analysis lens shift, as well.

Over the years, I’ve gone from being really enamored with those you were organizing what I now call “pretty movement” in the form of highly efficient, technically sound movement actions…to placing more priority on individuals who were finding ways to solve movement problems in more skillful ways (Note: this shift also went hand-in-hand with how I have come to view movement practice settings for my respective players too). To do that, I inherently had to focus more time and effort into trying to understand the movement problem that individuals were facing on the field more deeply. I now take great pride in where the spotlight of my movement analysis eye fixates on.

All that said though, this is my public service announcement that I plan to take another step even further on this endeavor in 2018 by continuing to place a higher focus on understanding the nuances of the respective movement problem to be solved when determining which mover in that given week (or at the end of the season when I determine who I felt was ‘most masterful’) showed the type of proficient, functional, problem-solving movement skill that is deserving of praise and recognition in the context of everything that is interacting with the athlete at that moment in time in the game. After all, it’s in this recognition where I can attempt to highlight what led to that skillful execution by bringing attention to certain concepts which I believe movement specialists and performance enhancement coaches should be utilizing to help us more fully understand sport movement behavior in context.

Why the need for this though?

Readers of this blog and peers who have followed any of my thought processes know the affinity that I have for many ideas provided by the late and great movement scientist, Nikolai Bernstein. Bernstein allows certain concepts to be put to life in the form of words in ways that I couldn’t quite muster. Thus, I want to share with you a number of those quotes which ring true for our topic of the day in our need to respect the movement problem more intimately.

  • “No natural phenomenon can be understood without carefully considering how it emerged.”
  • “A movement is correct when it perfectly fits a motor problem just as a key easily opens a lock.”
  • “Dexterity is the ability to find a motor solution for any external situation, that is, to adequately solve any emerging motor problem.”
  • “Dexterity is not confined within the movements or actions themselves but is revealed in how these movements behave in their interaction with the environment, with its unexpectedness and surprises.”

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I don’t know what trends in the themes of Bernstein’s ideas stick out to you in those above quotes (apart from the obvious observation that he was WAY ahead of his time in his thinking), but for me personally, the gold comes back around in the emphasis Bernstein took in explaining how the masterful mover’s ability would show itself in the performer’s skillful organization of his/her movement in response to the ever-changing problem while also recognizing the role of the environment as a key contributing factor defining what that problem really represents to the performer. It’s in this scale of analysis that we can try to understand the information transactions which occur between the performer (and his solutions) and the environment (and its problems).

Of course, one cannot have a movement solution without first being presented a problem to solve. Furthermore, we cannot truly determine the level of correctness (adequacy or accuracy) of the functional fit of the movement solution without truly and deeply studying what the constraints of the problem are offering. That all said, I believe that even though I have focused additional time in recent years on this problem-solution interface (the perceptual-motor workspace as they would say in ecological dynamics lingo), I will also admit that there are times that my writing has been far too asymmetrically oriented on the individual and not respecting enough of the context that exists within the relationship the individual has with the problem and its environment.

Respect the problem!

This season, I plan to take a renewed and invigorated initiative in investigating the problems (as they may stand from the perspective of the player who is facing them) at a deeper level. I desire to peel back the layers of what that problem-solution interface looks like, feels like and acts like for the player. Because of that, in my features, I am going to place higher priority on players who organize more optimized movement solutions under changes in conditions. Practically-speaking, this could take the form of proficient movement skills which are displayed when:

  • Complexity increases within the problem workspace (more opponents to deal with, higher performing opponents to deal with, changes in the amount of space/time to deal with)
  • Novelty or newness is taking place within the problem
  • Pressure is higher and games are close and/or on the line
  • Fatigue is increased (maybe in the midst of long drives or late in games)
  • Weather and/or field conditions are drastically different than what the player is accustomed to
  • Players are suffering through an injury
  • Emotions are running higher than normal for some reason

It’s in these situations that I believe we can really determine who the most masterful moving players are and start to understand that which creates the strong fabric of their movement skill. It’s in these situations that we see an athlete who is dealing with the reality of key performance inhibitors (in the form of these given constraints) and finding truly functional adaptable movement solutions under those conditions. In other words, when faced with these contextual changes to the problem, it begins to inform us of where dexterity, adaptability, and mastery really live.

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