Why are movement skills so important and how do they differ from just movement drills?
The most central concept in athletics is movement. Every sport (well almost every, sorry NASCAR) requires skilled coordination and body control. The common themes amongst most team sports include multi-directional speed and agility, instantaneous power expression, and reaction/improvisation. Individual sports like track and field, distance running, cycling etc… differ in that their performances are predefined and there is little reactionary component (No one is trying to pancake block Usain Bolt in the 100 meters). This is the reason that it is critical to teach team sport athletes acceleration, deceleration and change of direction skills because very rarely will a team sport athlete run in a straight line without having to make an adjustment based on what is happening around him or her.
The most important idea to understand with this principle is that athletic movement is a skill. Just like any other skill, it needs to be developed with proper coaching and practice, not in the haphazard fashion I see with a lot of so-called speed and agility camps out there. If the fundamentals are developed correctly, the athlete will respond automatically with the right mechanics in a game situation. Below is an example of a multi-directional agility basic, but one that is often taught incorrectly. The hip turn is key to reacting to an opponent’s change of direction in most field sports. On the top is a proper hip turn
Note how aggressively my hips rotate prior to my upper body, creating a powerful coil that leads to a better position to recover and get into a good acceleration posture.
Look at the difference in my posture and body angle in the second frame. My first movement was to stand up and open the my hips in a pivot.
The difference is obvious when looking at high-speed film. However, I’ve seen and heard a lot of coaches cue an athlete to “pivot the hips” when changing directions. The result is the second group of images. A pivot like that is only useful in a sport where the rules require it, like basketball.
Just running a bunch of arbitrary drills without understanding what the athlete needs to do is useless and will likely result in bad habits. Movement skills aren’t about intensity, long practices, pain, and suffering. They are about focusing on how to do it right and ingraining the proper techniques. Coaching them is about utilizing the correct cues and finding out which ones work for each individual. Remember, when it comes to developing young athletes, more is not better; better is better.