Dr. Greg Rose stated in one of his great lectures for the Perform Better team that motor learning (i.e. muscle memory) is never erased. One pattern can be overlaid upon another, but our basic motor patterns are archived and remain with us for our lives. For example, piano lessons when we are young and our nervous system is so plastic stay with us. Same with the ability to ride a bike, learn multiple languages fluently and form certain sounds with our mouths (think of accents from people that learn a second language well into adulthood and have trouble with some sounds).
Why is this point important? In many instances from sport to law enforcement to Special Forces novices are put in situations in which extreme stress is a part of the test in order to determine the motor pattern that will emerge under times of such duress. A current popular example is Tim Tebow’s throwing motion. When in a closed drill in which the outcome is set, the motion improves. When the drill is open, such as in competition, the throwing pattern reverts to the earlier learned pattern typical of a baseball windup.
Many Special Forces and military selection courses include high levels of stress in which the candidate is deprived of sleep, food and given tasks that are extremely difficult and in some instances even impossible to accomplish. Why? To determine if the candidate can function at a high level in times of extreme discomfort; to determine what muscle memory patterns will emerge and finally, to get a glimpse into the will power of the individual candidate.
What does this have to do with sports teams? It is becoming more and more difficult to put high school and collegiate athletes under duress in order to determine how they will respond in terms of will power, motor patterns and ability to function. The high school coach in many instances is not backed up by his administration if even one parent complains. In college, the NCAA has mainstreamed the athlete into the student-athlete collegiate experience to such an extent that in the summer, when school is paid for, the athlete does not even have to workout one time, while all expenses, room and board are paid for during the summer semester. Many coaches do not support making athletes uncomfortable since they end up in their offices complaining.
It is imperative our young people are put in situations of distress that are planned, well thought out and have a purpose in order to create young people with confidence, competence and will power in order to face the challenges of adulthood.
The last winter ball in football I participated in had 9 stations with a goal of 7-8 reps at each station. This created a load of 63-72 reps in less than 35 minutes. This workload mimicked a football game in 1/6th of the time. When warm up and cool down was included as well as penalty runs, this was a 60 – 65 minute workout. This was done 3 – 4 times per week and the athletes had to come back in the afternoon and lift weights 3 – 4 times as well. The lifting was not as difficult as the focusing and commitment to doing it right, doing it hard and doing it with a positive mental attitude. This was done to create toughness in the eyes of the coaches, but I now know it creates hard motor patterns that are difficult to peel back.
During the 2013 spring game at Ohio State University, Urban Meyer stood just behind and over from the holder on each and every field goal attempt. Why – To put pressure on the new kickers of course. What happens when the kicker feels the pressure? He reverts back to his worst pattern, which may result in a miss, much like when he is iced before the big kick to win the big game.
What is our lowest level of motor pattern? The fetal position. When there is too much stress for our ability to cope, too much stress for our level of training, too much stress for our experience level, too much stress for our mind to comprehend, we will revert to the fetal position. Remember the culmination of the final battle scene in “Saving Private Ryan”? Why did Steven Spielberg Show Matt Damon in his foxhole screaming? What position is he in. . . . . ?
Making it tough in a well thought out progression that is appropriate for the age group, the ability level and culture of the team/individual will go a long way toward preparing a team, group and individual for the trials and tribulations of the future.