Why Athletes Need 'Movement Variability,' and How Coaches Can Deliver It

Great athletes have the ability to use a variety of movements to solve the problems of their respective sport.

A popular term as of late is "variability;" specifically, "movement variability."

Previously, variability has been thought to be bad in athletes. We wanted our athletes to have consistent, repeatable actions without much fluctuation. The reality is, when it comes to field/court-based movements, this isn't necessarily true.

What is true is that better athletes have low outcome variability (the end result is the same), but have a large library of execution variability (how they get to that result). This has been termed functional variability.

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A popular term as of late is "variability;" specifically, "movement variability."

Previously, variability has been thought to be bad in athletes. We wanted our athletes to have consistent, repeatable actions without much fluctuation. The reality is, when it comes to field/court-based movements, this isn't necessarily true.

What is true is that better athletes have low outcome variability (the end result is the same), but have a large library of execution variability (how they get to that result). This has been termed functional variability.

What does this mean?

Great athletes have the ability to use a variety of movements to solve the problems of their respective sport. They don't have a single movement strategy for every problem they encounter in sport. Rather, they have a number of various movements they can use to accomplish the given task.

This means we should encourage our athletes to explore and be creative to find multiple, authentic movement solutions. This exploration and creativity helps gain functional variability rather than limit athletes to some specific movement we deem necessary.

To increase functional variability, strive to vary the constraints you place on the athlete. Manipulate the task, the environment, the time, the opponent, the difficulty, etc. Athletes are most creative when they are under various constraints that change from rep to rep. The following video shows a simple Reactive T Drill where one athlete must process the direction the other athlete chooses and then try to beat them to the spot. But look at how many different ways we can manipulate this drill from rep to rep:

I force my athletes to explore. I force them to not repeat the same movement over and over, giving their body and brain exposure to a variety of movements. This also applies to the weight room. Our athletes vary stances, depths, grips, angles of our strength movements, etc. from rep to rep and set to set.

This is the essence of Bernstein's repetition without repetition. It's not the outcome that differs, rather the process of the solution. If your athletes are training just a handful of the same movements over and over with little variability, they won't have many tools in their toolbox to solve athletic problems. Their library of execution variability will be lacking.

Understand that athletes will exhibit a certain amount of functional variability in their movements. Variability in movement is no longer the negative we once thought. In reality, it's crucial to athletic excellence. This is why we ensure our training encourages exploration and creativity to ensure certain amounts of variability is inherently present.

Photo Credit: Halfpoint/iStock

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Topics: FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT SCREEN | MOBILITY WORK