To round off a busy and interesting year, Football Association Head of Medical Education Mike Healy was kind enough to invite us to be the final chapter in what he envisioned as a tripartite overview of movement approaches, a programme which included international authorities Kelvin Giles from Australia and FMS from the USA.
It was an interesting proposition – a weekend with a large group of physiotherapists who have already encountered movement testing approaches from leading organisations on previous seminars. Perhaps it would be timely to break movement out of the laboratory and bring our analysis back to sports relevance and movement patterning in the field?
One of the trends I have noticed over recent years while working with physiotherapists in professional football is that movement testing is being performed more routinely, which is very positive, but sometimes mechanistically, i.e. not always clearly connecting to the actual technical or injury implications unique to the sport and the individual. When a test is implemented, I want to know“so what?” . Something has been noticed in testing, but what does it mean? What are the implications with respect to injury or technique? What insight has it produced that will generate a systematic action plan? If these questions cannot be clearly answered, the test’s usefulness is questionable.
Generic testing certainly offers helpful information, but I would not maximize my effectiveness and relevance if I used the same movement tests for a footballer as I would for a golfer or a swimmer. Certainly there may be overlap, but ultimately I need to identify the factors which link to technical issues or injury as efficiently as possible, which means that first I need to understand the sport and its specific movement demands. By all means, read the available research, but don’t forget that some of the best information comes from asking an athlete or coach what they perceive to be the demands of the job. An amazing amount can be learned by valuing the experience of a good coach, and it is also a great way to pick up common technical or training beliefs that don’t hold water but which may be creating problems worthy of investigation.
I have also noticed a tendency for movement assessment to be programmed as a specifically pre season testing activity, and while this is of course relevant and very helpful, the visual skills involved in movement assessment can be used as an every day, all day, real time source of information for the entire multidisciplinary team. Movement observation is not something to put in a box to pull out on a special occasion. Developing the skills to spot suboptimal movement habits as athletes practice or perform is a way to pick up problems before they emerge as injuries, and a source of valuable insight into performance related issues.
In other words, knowledge is power, but it is skill that delivers it. Once you have that skill, it can’t be put in your back pocket – you just can’t help but watch people.
So, on an unusually bright late November weekend in Daventry, an enthusiastic and hardworking group of physiotherapists and fitness coaches knuckled down to exploring movement strategies, neuromuscular cueing, and an array of techniques to address each area relevant to football movement. More than a few discovered that a little polishing might be in order to reclaim their own potential for effective, efficient, high quality movement. I wholeheartedly encourage this –most are working with developing young footballers, and these kids don’t just hear you, they see you. Don’t underestimate how much information they absorb just by watching how you move and carry yourself.
The issue of programme delivery is ultimately where this all leads, and although there are many ways to include good quality work within training even when time and resources are limited, it is not always what you do but how you do it that counts. Physiotherapist or sports scientists do not always see themselves as educators. We can be very thorough and very earnest about telling someone what to do and how to do it, but this approach is not necessarily the most effective route to motor learning. If we take a coaching approach, creating a dialogue which fosters self awareness, an understanding that motivates the individual to attend to their own movement quality, and indeed, to create a pride in this level of self reliance, it is possible to achieve far greater efficiency over time and across a whole team. You can’t achieve this with knowledge alone – it is the art and skill of the educator that applies the science in a way that reaches the athlete.
Many thanks to the FA for inviting my team to work with this dedicated group of sports professionals — and to the participants themselves, who threw themselves wholeheartedly into the material, and were so generous in expressing their appreciation.
“Fantastic IST by a world-recognised leader in movement dysfunction, thanks.”
“Absolutely spot on for working with young athletes”
“Thank you for opening my mind up to a whole new variety of approaching problems”