Always Stay Critical – Review 11

Hi, this is Dan, and welcome back to a new and overdue summary of a recent article. This time, I’ll go through our recent publication and will provide some further ideas and insights into what this means for our coaching practice.

To start with, this served as the theoretical framework of my thesis talking about – basically how not to do an ACL during SS – or rather, what we can do from an S&C point of view – to increase resilience and robustness. And because this topic is always heavily debated under the agility definition – so the need to react to a stimulus, we wanted to not only tackle this subject from an S&C and biomechanics perspective but also from ecological dynamics. That’s why we collaborated with Dr. Matt Miller-Dicks from the University of Portsmouth and, in the process, learned a lot about perception-action aspects that heavily influenced how I think about this topic now.

The 2 main questions we are interested in are:

How do different interacting constraints influence the execution of sidesteps and the associated knee joint load? – and by constraints, we mainly talk about muscular strength as an internal/organismic constraint. And because the term knee joint load or loading, in general, has been scrutinized in the past to the point that no one knows what we are talking about anymore, we defined it at the very beginning to give the reader more context.

The 2nd Q: How can a multi-disciplinary approach (S&C and P&A) enhance an athlete’s ability to withstand “worst case” scenarios? – Basically, how can we exploit different stimuli or, rather, how can we structure and progress drills to further build tissue resilience and robustness? I’ll dive more into this topic later, but within the scope of this article and my job as S&C, I’m primarily interested in the physical preparation of my athletes and letting the head coach deal with all things perception-action or decision-making.

With that, does motor capacity influence how we move? And motor capacity is one’s ability to apply force in a standardized, controlled environment or any measure of strength. Of particular interest to us is single and multi-joint lower body strength. So think, hip AB and AD and your squat 1RM. And in our understanding – Motor capacities act as boundaries that co-determine the safe execution of motor skills relative to changing environmental demands – so the stronger you are, to greater your opportunity to explore different movement executions, which is key to not strain and overload the same structure over and over again. In the next step, we argue that – single- and multi-joint strength acts not just as a boundary but rather as a catalyst for distinct and unique movement solutions – meaning that if you are stronger in some ranges than others, then you’ll likely also utilize these ranges within the execution of certain skills like a sprint, jump or sidestep. And this can get dangerous when all you do, you always rely on the same ranges and, therefore, structures – think overuse injury in the long run.

FIGURE 3. Therefore, we want to be holistically strong – so we can to be able to exploit different movement executions before the task demands – increasing task demands – delimit our potential to explore variable movement.

FIGURE 4. Although utmost crucial, the presence of strength is just the first step. Athletes may need to be exposed to variable practices that allow them to explore the range of their new motor capacities to translate improved muscular strength into calibrated movement strategies. Learning to utilize the new-found strength during the execution of sprints, jumps, and sidesteps. Athletes need to move, and we need to expose them to certain movements so they get the opportunity for motor learning.

The next Q was: How Does the Anticipatory Information Available to an Athlete Affect Joint Loading? This information will help us understand how to further progress drills to increase loading and potentially movement solutions. When setting up any COD or sidestep drills, we can make them pre-planned – so they know beforehand when and where to cut – and unplanned – they have to react to something. And this will change how the athlete moves and the imposing demands. Before we look into the differences, I wanted to discuss the difference between a stimulus and the mere change in information available. We often term drills as PAC – because we perceive something and act upon it. But Gibson’s proposes that the perceptual systems are active, enabling the detection and creation of information, which is used in the control of movement in an ongoing, cyclical manner – so we’re constantly getting feedback on what is happening and therefore experience any consequences or lack thereof. Where I’m going with this is that in most studies aiming to quantify an athlete’s PAC abilities, they often have to react to a video or a light response, but a “lab-based” response lacks any consequences for the athlete, inviting them to “gamble” their motor response due to the absence of an interaction or consequence – there is no consequence for a bad decision in a lab – but in an actual game or sport-specific training drill, there is. So the decision-making processes are way different IMO, and that’s why we need to be very critical with the assumption that such methods test or even train DM abilities that matter during in-game scenarios. But we can still use different information sources to manipulate the mechanical loading when sidestepping.

The last question we attempted to answer was will improvements in perceptual–cognitive skills facilitate perceptual–motor performance. – so the notion if faster decision-making is better, and if that’s something we want to train for? But evidence suggests that skilled athletes seem to make better choices rather later, instead of earlier, when tested with representative task designs, indicating that the quality of a decision might be of higher relevance than the required time to decide. So is there something we S&C can do to facilitate this DM process, and can athletes learn to make better decisions faster? And there has been a lot of writing done on this topic. But – what we concluded is that the efficacy of training perceptual-cognitive skills in isolation in non-representative settings to improve in situ performance remains questionable. And I still doubt that we, as S&Cs, have the opportunity to create a representative setting, and also, it’s not our job. We are in charge of all things physical prep, and there is still a lot of work to do – or ask yourself, when was the last time you had an athlete thinking, “damn, they are beyond strong, fast, powerful, and well conditioned.” – probably never.

To summarise, “Worst-case” scenarios will inevitably happen during a game…let’s prepare accordingly to increase the likelihood that athletes succeed “despite” the scenario or position they are in at a given moment. And if you scroll all the way down, you’ll find an online video of our proposed sidestep progression.

Thanks for listening and always stay critical.

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