2018 Play of the Week – WK 1 – Mr. Rodgers teaching us lessons about dexterity

Note: Just a quick reminder that throughout the 2018 season, I have elected to take a different approach than I have over the first handful of seasons of me breaking down plays here. Instead, this year, we will focus more efforts on connecting the problem-solution reciprocal relationship more deeply. This new emphasis will be evident below…

Play: Mr. Rodgers teaching us lessons about dexterity

Rodgers pic 3

Game: Chicago at Green Bay

Player: Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers

Other contenders this week:

  • Saquon Barkley showing off his sense, awareness, and the supreme control of his body in relation to one of the top defenses in the league for his first (of many to come) touchdown run
  • Tyreek Hill putting his unique affordances to action (specifically, what is unique about his action capabilities when he sees green grass) on display several times versus the Chargers
  • Von Miller doing prototypical Von Miller things.
  • Khalil Mack one-upping Von Miller by having as versatile of defensive performance as I can remember in recent times in the first half of the Sunday night game versus the Packers (more to come).

Pertinent Problem Constraints at-play:

Organism – Though I don’t work with Aaron Rodgers and have only met him briefly on one occasion (I don’t think I even gave him my name; Ha!), I have quite an appreciation for who he is and what he’s capable of. Besides, I feel like I know him quite well as many of the players I work with get to interact with him quite frequently in the form of his opposition. Because of that close investigative analysis, I have recognized him here on this blog many times before including being named First Team All-Movement at QB in 2016. Rodgers, when healthy (and maybe even when he’s not as he is about to prove to us!), is the most masterful and skillful individual that one can imagine in the way he handles his craft especially his movement inside of the pocket, his knack to find ways to escape the pocket and still stay perceptually attuned to what openings exist to exploit in throwing the football, and finally, his unique ability to throw from numerous positions. However, organism constraints are always changing. And on this night, in the second half of a game in which we saw Rodgers carted off the field in the first half with an apparently major knee injury (guessing it’s more like a mild MCL sprain), his personal (both structural and functional) constraints were much, MUCH different than they have ever been!

Rodgers pic 2.jpg

Environmental – It’s opening night at Lambeau Field for the 100th season of the Green Bay Packers versus your longtime rival in the Chicago Bears. The field at Lambeau is obviously natural grass (it’s Wisconsin, so what else would you expect?!) and you are playing in front of arguably the most committed and passionate fans in the sport. Luckily, it’s early in the season so the field surface is still great (it’s horrible come December and one of my least favorites for my players to be on late in the season) and the September Sunday night weather is also mild. However, let’s also recognize that playing in front of these fans, though very supportive at all times of all Packer players, have come to expect not only success but also damn near perfection from their team as they so strongly desire to be Super Bowl contenders each year. This brings a unique arousal and anxiety balance that the player must find ways to handle and execute under anyway (and even more if you are the QB of said team).

Task – We won’t be highlighting a single play per se and the problem-solution workspace (and task interactions) on that respective play. Instead, the only way to do justice to what Aaron Rodgers showed Sunday night is to feature his entire body of work in the second half. This global macroscopic task involved entering this half of football, down by 20, and attempting to lead your team back…while one of the league’s top three-ish defensive players (in Khalil Mack) is roaming around having just wrecked havoc on your offense in every way imaginable…oh yeah, while also having damaged your knee significantly enough to be carted off the field just 30 minutes prior to this. Even among NFL standards, the task in front of Rodgers is no normal one…luckily; AR12 is also not a normal, average quarterback.

Information Present/Affordances for Action

Because of the confluence of constraints mentioned above interacting together in their unique fashion for the 30 minutes of football we will feature, Rodgers was required to become adaptable in ways that he truly never has before. Of course, even for one of the most masterful players on the face of the planet, no two problems and no two solutions will ever be the same (due to both the unique demands of the problems found within the sport as well as the inherent variability present in the human movement system). However, this situation takes this reality and ups the ante on it even further. The injury as well as the context around the entire situation greatly perturbed the normal stability around the execution of every single one of Rodgers’ skills; meaning, it forced Rodgers to make tweaks and adjustments (both conscious as well as more subconscious) to movement skills that he is already in the upper echelon with. During every component part of the movement solving process (perception, intention, and action), he was required to find a new way as his past affordances (opportunities for action) were no longer his current ones and it showed. Stated another way; he could no longer make the plays he was accustomed to…at least not in the same fashions!

What qualities stick out that make this Movement Play of the Week?

When I was watching the game in real time, I tweeted out, “Rodgers in this second half is going to be a case study in movement degeneracy/abundance & dexterity of his movement & skill toolbox.” Looking back at it now, what a case study (and exhibit) it was!

Rodgers pic 4

As mentioned above, AR12 had to find ways of executing through skills that are typically (for a lack of better terms) more automatic and he can organize and operate within without much thought. On Sunday night though, everything from readying himself to take a snap, to dropping back, to planting to throw, to moving in the pocket, had to see significant changes to the performance execution in order to achieve the intended goal of the task. It wasn’t hard to see either as NBC continued to show just how little weight he was continually putting on it. Even the structure of general movement behaviors changed considerably. Case in point; there is a classic shot from the broadcast on Sunday night where Rodgers even bent in a lunge type fashion to tie the shoe on his right foot (the left knee is the injured one) where his left leg stays back behind him with his knee remains elevated considerably from the ground. Just a hunch here but I am guessing that this is likely not the way that he usually ties his shoes.

Rodgers pic 5

Lots of things jump off the screen at me during the case study that took place here in this special situation. However, none were bigger than the overall brilliance of the human movement system in its capabilities to open up the movement and skill toolbox to find a novel (or at least modified) movement solution while in behaving in the midst of the most extreme of organic ecosystems in professional athletics (the NFL). Many think that one of the qualities that are a major signpost of elite athletes is the lack of variability within their movement…consistency in how one solves the problems of their sport. However, what we know is that it’s the consistency which takes shape in the performance outcomes that make elites who they are and that they can (and should) execute with more available movement solutions (as well as more movement variability at least within reason) than their lesser skilled counterparts. This quality of the human movement system, which relates to degeneracy or abundance, is truly what we saw on display for Rodgers which preceded his very apparent, extraordinarily high levels of dexterity (the ability to find a movement solution under any situation and under any context).

How could we potentially guide athletes to acquire similar movement skills?

Obviously, I am not going to pretend that we can turn all of our athletes into Aaron Rodgers just through a few changes to our training tasks and environments. Anytime that something heroic like this happens, it’s a complex confluence of a whole lot of factors at-play, some known and obvious and others occurring at a more minute level, some based on nurture (practice) and others based on nature (genetic inheritance). However, I would be amiss if I didn’t point out the obvious from my philosophical perspective while I witnessed what it is that was unfolding during this special performance of Aaron Rodgers: as we have pointed out prior, Rodgers showed a diversity (degeneracy and abundance) within his movement toolbox that, at least in my humble opinion or at least speculation, showed that performing and executing skills with less than ideal technique was not all that foreign for him. Obviously, it’s not like in practice he significantly injures his knee and then makes throws to find ways to do so, but I do believe it’s at least feasible that he frequently spends some time throwing from different platforms (stances, etc), at different angles and contortions of his body, all around striving to find ways to “lose grip of” his normal way of executing simply to find a way to solve the problem in a different way that he is accustomed to. In fact, in the numerous times that I have closely watched Aaron Rodgers in pregame warm-ups while he’s preparing to play other players of mine, his preparation scheme was awfully Steph Curry-like in certain ways; for example, it seemed fairly common for him to make unbalanced throws in novel fashions as opposed to the traditional, more repeatable perfect throwing approach of QBs at any level. Of course, what I am basically describing here is a blend of repetition without repetition with a certain amount of differential learning where the goal is to get comfortable executing at the far ends of the movement execution bandwidth. I believe that it’s through this way that he became as prepared as he possibly could for the situation that we watched unfold on Sunday night as well as what we witnessed emerge for one of the most masterful movers in the game.

The Play!




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