Sprint Development and Motor Programming Theories

Sprinting is a motor skill used by many athletes to achieve goals in their particular sports. Soccer players sprint up and down a field chasing a soccer ball or opponent player and making breakaways. Baseball players sprint from base to base, and football players sprint to get the ball into the end zone or to make themselves available for a pass. Rugby, lacrosse, and basketball require running as well. These athletes must sprint quickly and efficiently to out-play opponents and sustain performance for the duration of a match. Motor program theories postulate the way our bodies learn and store knowledge about coordinated movements, such as sprinting. Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.

Motor program theories postulate the way our bodies learn and store knowledge about coordinated movements, such as sprinting. Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.

Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.

Motor program theories postulate the way our bodies learn and store knowledge about coordinated movements, such as sprinting. Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.

Motor program theories postulate the way our bodies learn and store knowledge about coordinated movements, such as sprinting. Two popular motor theories are the general motor and dynamic systems theories. General motor programs originate movement patterns in the central nervous system. These movements have specific invariant features and flexible parameters that help one adapt the movement to the environment. Dynamic systems propose that movement instructions arise from one’s environmental constraints. These patterns self-organize into stable states defined by order parameters, and they are dynamic within certain control parameters (Magill & Anderson, 2013). Understanding motor theories can help coaches develop athletes’ motor skills with the use of drills that vary appropriate variables to ensure the specific motor skill is being practiced.  Successful sprinting relies on the reciprocal patterning of the arms and legs.  The left arm moves in the opposite direction of the right arm and left leg. Similarly, the right arm moves opposite of the left arm and right leg. A kinematic analysis of arm movements in sprinting by Bhowmick and Bhattacharyya (1988) demonstrated that this arm movement creates angular momentum to counterbalance the angular momentum produced by hip rotation from the leg movement, and it helps elicit forceful leg drive to increase the overall velocity forward.

Successful sprinting relies on the reciprocal patterning of the arms and legs.  The left arm moves in the opposite direction of the right arm and left leg. Similarly, the right arm moves opposite of the left arm and right leg. A kinematic analysis of arm movements in sprinting by Bhowmick and Bhattacharyya (1988) demonstrated that this arm movement creates angular momentum to counterbalance the angular momentum produced by hip rotation from the leg movement, and it helps elicit forceful leg drive to increase the overall velocity forward.

Utilizing the generalized motor program theory, I could improve an athlete’s running ability with drills that reinforce the reciprocal patterns of the arms and legs. Drills could initially start from the on floor, using Perry Nickelston’s (n. d.) Primal Gait exercise where, while lying prone, one presses his or her shoulder and the opposite thigh into the ground and extends the opposite shoulder and thigh away from the ground, then alternates to the reciprocal position. The next drill we can progress to is an arm and opposite leg raising from a quadruped position, followed by crawling in the quadruped position using the same reciprocal arm and leg motions. I could then progress my client to walking, or marching, upright with the reciprocal arm and leg patterning and implement another exercise such as a single leg step up with knee drive and reciprocal arm movement to increase strength, power, and stability in this pattern.

When searching the internet for the dynamic systems approach in relation to sprinting, the name Frans Bosch appears frequently. He is a well-known sprinting and jumping coach who consults for many European sports teams. It is a challenge to find original information from Frans Bosch on the internet that is free and in English, but available sources do indicate the value he places on using a dynamic systems approach to train athletes in a way that best transfers to their performance settings. Bosch uses unique coaching techniques and cues to elicit unconscious movement responses (West Ham United FC, 2014). Through drills, he aims to create conditions that optimize the self-organizing system’s chance of finding a satisfactory solution (Hargrove, 2016).

Frans Bosch’s ideas can be incorporated when using dynamic systems theory to develop sprinting. For example, the game of tag allows players to transition from standing still to walking to sprinting based on demands of the environment. This demonstrates the nonlinear behavior that is typical of dynamic systems as participants move through unsteady transition states to attractor ones. Further, the game of tag allows systems to self-organize into the best movement solution for given circumstance. Another possible exercise utilizing dynamic systems theory involves performing sprinting drills on varying terrain (i.e., sand, turf, dirt, grass, hills, winding path, straight path, etc.). This applies dynamic systems theory by altering the constraints of sprinting in order to develop robustness in the skill, another concept that Frans Bosch is a proponent of (West Ham United FC, 2014).

I think that both motor theories have a place in training a particular motor skill such as sprinting. As a coach, I apply both approaches, separately and together, to train my athletes. I progress players from generalized motor program-based drills for reciprocal patterning to dynamic systems drills that call for self-organization, environment-elicited behaviors, and nonlinear state transitions. My goal as a coach is to best prepare my athletes for sports performance and skill robustness to ensure success and reduce injury risk, and I believe that utilizing both systems is the best way to do that.

References

Bhowmick, S., & Bhattacharyya, A. (1988). Kinematic analysis of arm movements in sprint start [Abstract]. Journal of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness, 28(4), 315-323.

Hargrove, T. (2016). Review of “Strength training and coordination: An integrative approach” by Frans Bosch. Better Movement by Todd Hargrove. Retrieved from http://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2016/review-of-strength-training-and-coordination-an-integrative-approach-by-frans-bosch

Magill, R. A., & Anderson, D. I. (2013). Motor learning and control: Concepts and applications (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Nickelston, P. (n. d). Moving beyond mobility manual 2.0. Retrieved from stopchasingpain.com

West Ham United FC. (2014). The team behind the team [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0nZsAHdDyQ

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Practice makes perfect

I grew up to the sound of instructors reciting the mantra, “Practice makes perfect.” I was taught that all I had to do was practice hard and often, and one day, I’d be a master of whatever task I was working at. Unfortunately, research shows that the process isn’t that simple. One must deliberately practice his or her skill and have advantageous genetics, among other influences, in order to become an expert in a specific field.

Deliberate practice, or perfect practice, refers to the time one spends perfecting a skill using the most effective, appropriate training methods and feedback (Baker & Horton, 2004). It requires effort, focus, motivation, quality coaching, and drills that transfer well to performance. An athlete must be focused and intrinsically motivated to work hard through practice times under that guidance of knowledgeable coaches who maximize the efficiency of practice time and utilize effective feedback techniques to maximize the athlete’s development. Training exercises must be gauged to the athlete’s level and allow for correction and repetition. These drills must also transfer well to the performance of the defined task (Baker & Horton, 2004).

There are many flaws with the model of deliberate practice for expert performance which stipulates that approximately 10,000 hours of perfect practice over the course of 10 years is what is required for any individual to become an expert. Firstly, many of the studies cited for this model are retrospective studies, meaning the total hours of practice time were estimated retrospectively by participants, instead of being recorded or measured at the time of occurrence. The accuracy of these approximations is questionable. Secondly, what assurance is there of the quality of a given hour of practice? Is an hour of practice by one person in a study equivalent in quality to an hour of practice by another person in that same study? Furthermore, Tucker and Collins (2012) found that the number of deliberate practice hours only explains 28 to 34% of the individual variances in certain sports’ performance. While practice is an essential ingredient in the recipe for achieving sports expertise, it is not, by any means, the only important element.

Tucker and Collins (2012) state, that “training can be defined as the process by which genetic potential is realized,” demonstrating the intertwined relationship that deliberate practice and genetic factors play as one becomes an expert. Genetic factors that hold a large influence on sports performance expertise include gender, height, VO2 response to training (among other hereditary cardiorespiratory variables), and muscle mass and strength. Certain traits are more advantageous in some sports and less advantageous in others. For example, pertaining to the trait of height, tall individuals are preferred by some sports, while shorter individuals are favored by others (Tucker & Collins, 2012). Psychological traits including one’s ability to focus, rebound from mistakes, and manage anxiety in addition to one’s self-confidence and concentration are also influenced by genetic components and play an important role in setting up an athlete to achieve expertise in his or her sport (Baker & Horton, 2004).

Regardless of practice quality and genetic factors, there is also a limit to how much time one can practice in a given period without increasing the risk of injury from overuse and fatigue. Andrew Read (n. d.) tells a joke of an overzealous, novice athlete who asks his coach how long it’ll take before he’s a world class athlete. The coach tells him it will take 10 years. The athlete then asks the coach how long it would take to become a world class athlete if he works twice as hard and trains twice as long. The coach’s response is twenty years. Athletic development is limited by the amount of training one’s body can handle, and the occurrence of injuries delay the development process or prevent expert performance capability.

In my work with young athletes, I apply some of this information by teaching my students quality practice habits, such as concentration, focus, and intrinsic motivation. Although strong evidence exists about the influence of genetic factors on an individual’s performance potential, I refrain from teaching young athletes to attribute any of their success or lack of success to factors outside of their control as I believe this negatively affects their motivation. Further, I could do more in my coaching to promote positive recovery practices, such as quality sleep, soft tissue maintenance, and good nutrition, in the athletes I work with so they can maximize their ability to train and minimize injury risks.

References

Baker, J. & Horton, S. (2004). A review of primary and secondary influences on sport expertise. High Ability Studies, 15(2), 221-228.

Read, A. (n. d.). Run Strong [E-book]. N.P.

Tucker, R. & Collins, M. (2012). What makes champions? A review of the relative contribution of genes and training to sporting success. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 46, 555-561.