Skillz

A centipede was quite happy, until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
This raised his doubts to such a pitch
He fell distracted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.

~ Anonymous 

When ever I talk to people about skills I immediately think of a song by Gangstarr called, well — “Skillz”. He goes on about how he’s on the top of his game; the rap game that is.

Q: How did they get to the top?

A: They had to improve their skills!

Learning a skill is called skill acquisition. It is defined as a form of prolonged learning about a series of events (Speelman). We pick up skills at all ages and in all facets of our lives. Whether its learning how to walk and then run as an infant to learning how to do math problems, to write or read as a child, or learning how to coping with stress as an adult — the list of available skills to learn is endless.

I was curious to explore this further because I’ve been watching my college athletes learn new drills throughout the  past 4 years. Actually, I was the most curious over the athletes who showed significant difficulties not just while learning but also the coordination of movement once the skill was learned. Usually it is the athlete who claims they weren’t very good at ball sports (soccer, baseball, etc) and hence was attracted to running because they believed it didn’t require very many skills.

The whole point of bringing in certain drills wasn’t only to help with injury prevention/rehabilitation but it was to improve their coordination and overall athletics skills!

Coaches want athletes — its that simple.

Inspiration and Current Research:

I don’t use twitter too much but I do check it often because I follow so great thinkers to help guide me to growing into a more well-rounded coach/person. I caught a link from a highly successful triathlon coach about External and Internal cueing for optimal skill acquisition. You can read the article HERE which references several current studies on the topic.

Here is the quick summary:

  • Internal/External cueing is different than Association/Disassociation (staying in the moment vs focusing on other task than what you are doing). Internal cueing or focus refers to how a certain body part is suppose to move (ie. “high elbow when pulling through while swimming”) while external cueing/focus refers to how a certain body part moves with regards to the environment (ie. “push water back”).
  • In a couple of studies they looked for efficiency of movement skill with both types of cueing (internal/external). In both dart throwing and endurance running external cueing was more efficient. In dark throwing those who focused on target (external) instead of wrist (internal) hand lower wrist EMG readings and in distance running athletes who focused on terrain features (external) consumed less oxygen than the two other groups who focused on running mechanics (internal) and breathing rates (internal).
Application of Knowledge:
As a coach, one needs to constantly read up on current research and figure out how they apply in their context or system. I’m constantly scouring for information that I can bring back to my athletes and into my own training. The reason for this post is for a paper/project in my Sports Psych class at Vassar. So, you see, I’m always trying to learn more!
Anyways, I decided to try it out using a balance disk, which is an item my athletes have very littler experience with. I performed a control trial which was, “just balance on the disk.” Then I told them to focus on keeping the disk flat (external), next maintain flat feet (internal) and then try flat disk again to see if there was a difference.
The video of these trials is below.

I know its hard to tell because no athlete is perfectly balanced but, I did see a clear difference between flat feet and flat disk. With flat feet you can see each foot moving in a different plane than the other trying to search for the “flatness”. In the flat disk cue there is more control of the feet therefore it looks to be a bit more efficient.

I also tried this using hurdles as cues while running on the track.

Check back for more on that soon!

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