April 28th, 2017

Book Review : Dynamics of Skill Acquisition

Review of the book:  Dynamics of Skill Acquisition - A Constraints Led Approach

by Keith Davids, Chris Button, Simon Bennett

  • A book that explains how human movement is controlled when learning a new skill
  • A lot of useful information on how to coach sport
  • Very explanatory of the benefits of using the MGS movement to create a more goal-directed end-point (ie impact)
What a phenomenal book - for any maker of movement, or teacher of it. And for users of the MGS. It is completely research-based and involves all the latest theories on “motor learning”, a formal term for the learning of a new or even changed, movement. Chapter 1 offers a historical overview of the ideas that were believed to explain how the learning and coordination of movement is controlled. Earlier theorists believed that the brain acted as a central controller sending top-down commands to muscles to create movement. It was also believed that years of practice led to invariant performance, which was considered to be a good thing. Chapters 2 to 5 explain all the modern theories of how movement really takes place and why it changes with each performance. It is now understood that human movement involves chaos and complexity (read this great – and simply explained - paper to know more about those two terms: http://necsi.edu/projects/baranger/cce.pdf), and variability is desirable so that movement can be altered based on the challenges encountered. Variability is also useful for reducing the effect of repetitive loads on identical body structures over time, and helps to slow down the progression towards injury. It is now known that the human is capable of “self-organization”, which means that the parts involved in a movement spontaneously adapt, based on the constraints of a particular movement. For instance, a golfer might encounter differing constraints on each shot such as the slope on which he/she stands, the wind conditions or the stiffness in a particular body joint. Thus the human body self-organizes movements based on the varying “conditions” or “constraints” it finds itself in. “Constraints” are the restrictions placed on each movement, and depend on the body and mind of a performer, the requirements of a particular sport’s tasks, and on the environment surrounding a particular action. They are formally terms “organismic”, “task” and “environmental” constraints. The book then goes on to explain learning or how a performer can best learn a new movement - should instruction be verbal, visual, video-based or what? Even sound and touch are important tools for new learning. Chapter 6 explains how a coach might deal with individual differences, Chapter 7 talks of how best to organize practice to optimize learning, Chapter 8 is about how best to use verbal guidance, and Chapter 9 explains how observational learning takes place. Finally Chapter 10 has case studies which explain all of the above information based on specific cases of motor skill learning, from a soccer shot to amputee gait. This is a must-read book for any serious coach in any sport, as it contains all the latest researched information. Most of the book has complex concepts which become easier to understand because of the simple, real-life examples carefully factored into the explanations. Personally, this book had many epiphanies which explained why the MGS might speed up learning through the artificial means of restricting some degrees of freedom (of the torso) while loosening up others (of the arms) so that it would be more likely for any skill level of performer not to regress under conditions of fatigue or arousal, when the golf swing has so much overall and individual joint-based movement that sequencing can become a problem during the mere 1.3rd second that the downswing lasts. The book can be purchased at: https://www.amazon.com/Dynamics-Skill-Acquisition-Constraints-Led-Approach/dp/0736036865

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