Why Forcing 'Better' Biomechanics on Athletes Doesn't Always Make Sense

Let's prioritize making athletes more skilled and adaptable movers in ways that translate to sport rather than trying to get everyone to move the same.

When it comes to complex sport movement, there is no textbook technique. So why do many coaches try to force their athletes into what they deem as perfect form?

Although it's interesting to look at detailed biomechanic and kinematic descriptions of a certain athlete and think, "I need my athletes to look like this," understand these analyses only show what the athlete produced, they do not tell us how the athlete produced those movements.

The movements in the above video are clearly not the same, not only from a kinematic standpoint but more importantly, in how the movements emerged from the athlete's coupled intention and perception to the task. Remove this coupling and you remove the main benefits of movement training.

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When it comes to complex sport movement, there is no textbook technique. So why do many coaches try to force their athletes into what they deem as perfect form?

Although it's interesting to look at detailed biomechanic and kinematic descriptions of a certain athlete and think, "I need my athletes to look like this," understand these analyses only show what the athlete produced, they do not tell us how the athlete produced those movements.

The movements in the above video are clearly not the same, not only from a kinematic standpoint but more importantly, in how the movements emerged from the athlete's coupled intention and perception to the task. Remove this coupling and you remove the main benefits of movement training.

Ask yourself, and truly think deeply about this:

  • Does getting better at a cone drill mean that technique will be used by the athlete in a game?
  • Is the athlete just increasing performance in that single drill while not really learning much that can be used during competition?

Sport is not like math or English—it isn't about declarative knowledge. 2+2 doesn't always equal 4 in sport like it does in math. There is no learning the alphabet of movement. So thinking athletes have to "learn" a movement in a closed setting before progressing to an open setting simply doesn't hold water in my book.

Team sport athletes must learn to adapt their movements to the various situations encountered on the field. These situations are impacted by a virtually endless number of variables. Most research focuses on biomechanics but forgets the brain and behavior. They all interact and influence one another; so it is unwise to study or try to force a biomechanical model without consideration of these additional factors.

Now there is fine line with this idea, as certain movements are more closed and have greater defined mechanics. For example, linear speed has more defined mechanics than agility. Thus, we will work much harder at giving our team sport athletes the understanding and grasp of linear mechanics.

In reference to the differences of track mechanics and team sport sprint mechanics, Stuart McMillan has said, "Team sport athletes need to know the rules, before they can break them." Accordingly, we teach our athletes the rules of acceleration and top-end sprinting speed with a more nuanced biomechanical rule book, but then put them in various scenarios, situations and stances to let them "break" the rules.

When you look at cutting mechanics, and every possible cut or break an athlete can make, these same principles cannot be applied. Unlike sprinting, most movements that occur in sport have a short list of universal mechanics athletes must follow. In my opinion, instead of spending 15-20 minutes working on what we think of as a "perfect" shuffle step or 90-degree cut, coaches better serve their athletes by building environments that allow them to confront and solve many different movement problems. Here are several examples I've utilized with my athletes:

True agility involves a stimulus and is open, random and chaotic. Shouldn't how we train it include some or all of those same elements? Let's prioritize making athletes more skilled and adaptable movers in ways that translate to sport rather than trying to get everyone to move the same.

Photo Credit: speedclimb/iStock

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Topics: AGILITY | QUICKNESS | FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT SCREEN | MOBILITY WORK