Believe it or not, motor learning and skill acquisition doesn't have to end on the field. With some simple tweaks to our training, we can bring many of those principles into the weight room.
There are things we can do to help bridge the gap between the field and the weight room. The reality is that there are some serious differences between live sports competition and what goes on in the weight room, but there are ways to increase the amount of learning and context an athlete experiences in the weight room.
I'm not saying the weight room should become a place of gimmicks in place of true training. Of course addressing the basics of strength and power still has their important place, but as coach, I believe we can do more.
For example, adding a clap/whistle to a lift can help athletes who start their sports with a stimulus become more adept and in-tune to reacting to audio stimuli. This is most obvious with track athletes and swimmers, but a football offensive lineman also has to react to a snap count.
I had a track athlete who just had horrible reaction out of the blocks. Now there are many factors that contribute to this poor reaction; but, one thing we did was make many of her lifts reactive. We had her initiate certain lifts at the sound of a clap/whistle, to simulate her reacting to the gun out of the the blocks.
In her words, she became more comfortable in this situation, learning how to maintain tension and pressure. This all transferred to her improving her response time and mechanics out of the blocks. Because we brought some of the sensation and stimulus from her sport into the weight room, she became more attuned and adaptable in the actual blocks.
Manipulating equipment, raising alertness, using specific implements during rest periods are all easy ways to bring aspects of the sport into the weight room. Simply adding a blocking pad to sleds, catching a football during rest periods, using block starts in potentiation complexes, scanning through focus grids, and initiating lifts off a stimulus are all easy ways to make the weight room more representative without losing it's basic, general aspects.
In the video below, you'll see an athlete going through one of our focus grids. We use these during rest periods and challenge the athlete to get through the list as fast as possible. The goal being to challenge their ability to maintain focused to the pertinent information we want them to attune to. It's fun and challenging for the athlete and we can often build a competitive environment amongst our training groups:
There's a reason things like The Difference Pad and LeCharles Bentley's equipment is so successful. They bring context and specificity, in the right manner, into the weight room.
Doing little things like the above, in all phases of an athlete's preparation, goes a long way in increasing their perceptual refinement and awareness of a skill set needed for success. In addition, I guarantee you'll increase effort, buy-in, and confidence in your athletes. After all, it is our job to connect the athlete with the big picture, and that is on-field performance.