How to move better.

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Dr cobb pointed out a striking difference between Federer and other tennis players: he gets his head behind his racket as he makes the shot.

Dr cobb pointed out a striking difference between Federer and other tennis players: he gets his head behind his racket as he makes the shot.  Compare him with Ben Wilmot to the right.


Ben Wilmot.

Ben Wilmot.











I have recently been on the Zhealth course, S phase, S being short for sports.  The course kicked off with three sentences that give pause for thought:

The will to win compares little with the will to prepare to win. 1

The course was about learning the basic movement templates of all sports and improving visual skills.  The ability to suddenly change direction or get off the floor rapidly got broken down to very simple moves that need to be practised carefully.   For most of us, the desire to be up and running beats the desire to take it all apart and slowly improve until we are MUCH better at our chosen sport.  Dr Cobb, Mr Z health, described meeting a golfer who’d played golf for some 30 years and had never got better.  People go out for a jog and never get any faster.  With persistence, they may get further, but not consistently faster.  And if they do go faster, they injure. 2 Its all in the preparation.

The movements we learnt often went against what standard coaching teaches.  For instance, we learnt the very basics of a move Dr Cobb called a plyo-step, which involves stepping a foot backwards in order to sprint forwards.  He told us a story of when he went on a speed development course run by a leading coach.  The coach held out a tennis ball at arms length and the instruction was to sprint forwards and catch the ball on its first or second bounce after the coach dropped it.  Dr Cobb used his plyo-step, shot forwards and caught the ball before it hit the ground.  “Oh,” said the coach, “you’re one of those.”  “One of whats?” Dr Cobb asked.  “A fast twitch.  Well, you did the move wrong!”  According to this coach, to move ‘correctly’ you simply fall forwards into the sprint, never moving backwards before going forwards.  Never mind that Dr Cobb got there way more quickly than expected – he still did it wrong.  Such a shame that we can get stuck in our ways and be blind to better ones.

Dr Cobb developed the sporting template having watched hours of footage of the very greatest athletes/sportsmen doing their thing.  People like Federer, Michael Jordan, Pele, Tiger Woods and so on.  Always the elite make it look effortless.  And, in getting on the starting blocks of these drills, the potential of the movement could be felt even if it felt frequently awkward at first.  The injury rate would be non-existant from these moves (I’m not talking about getting an injury from getting knocked about here, but an injury like pulling a hamstring from a sudden sprint start, for instance), the end speed phenomenal and the effort level low.  But they have to be carefully learnt.  Its all in the preparation.

The second sentence was

The kid who is good at sports and told so, rarely does as well as the one who was congratulated on the hard work part.

Which is more of the above, I suppose.  But also ties in with my recent blog about how to overcome strokes and severe brain injuries.  One of the keys is to strongly encourage any attempt to pick up the cup, say, rather than only congratulate when the cup is picked up.

A third sentence:

The amount of training is not as important as the quality of training

And it doesn’t matter what it is we are trying to achieve. An incapacitated old Granny trying to rise from the chair needs to concentrate upon where her feet are, how she places her hands on the chair arms rather than just shoving off and ending in a tearful heap.  Perfecting a tennis serve is not a matter of just hitting the ball 100 times and assuming it will get better.  It probably will get worse because whatever is wrong with the serve is still wrong, and it has now been practised wrong another 100 times, making the brains motor pattern even stronger.

To change a motor pattern has been likened to walking across a field rapidly regrowing long grass.  Usually we follow the footpath we are used to and its easy.  To change, we have to cross the field right through the long, tangly grass.  Extremely difficult the first few times, but getting easier over time as the path gets worn through.

So be prepared to think outside the box, be prepared to break a move down and practice each section carefully and persistently, paying constant attention.  Therefore many short bursts are better than one long one.  And give this type of good effort all the praise it deserves.

  1. Coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant []
  2. Added to this is some myth that running is not good for the knees. []

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