Effective athletic development is based upon the principle of the development of fundamental movement skill before specific sport skill. In generations past this was something that everyone took for granted because the demands of everyday living took care of fundamental movement. People at all ages were much more active. Children grew up active, free play was a major part of daily activity. It was natural to crawl, jump, hop, run, reach, lift, throw, etc; it was all done in a spontaneous playful environment. Even in the adult world there were less “conveniences” than today. People walked instead of rode. Physical labor was part of society. People generally participated rather than watched. As short a time as thirty years ago there was mandatory physical education from kindergarten through twelfth grade in every state in the nation.
The athletic realm does not exist independent of the rest of society; athletes are a product of the society they grow up in. There is no longer mandatory physical education to provide a foundation of movement skills. There is less free play and more organized sport activity. The net effect of all of this is a significant decline in fundamental movement skills. A sound athletic development program is founded on the basic locomotor skills developed to their highest level. These fundamental skills must be incorporated on a daily basis into the athlete’s training program regardless of the level of development. Obviously as the athletes progresses in training age and skill development fundamental skills should assume proportionally less of the training time. It is ironic that in my work with high level professional athletes that I have to spend a good portion of their training on fundamental movements because they never acquired these skills as part of their foundation. Instead they specialized early and refined their specific sport skills.
Fundamental movement skills fall into three broad categories: locomotor skills, stability skills and manipulative skills. Locomotor skills are as the name implies. They are the skills that get us from place to place. It encompasses the spectrum of the gait cycle from walking, to running, to sprinting. It also includes swimming in order to move in the aquatic medium. Since we are terrestrial beings the emphasis in our athletic development program is on variations of gait. In its most rudimentary forms it includes crawling.
Stability skills are those movements executed with minimal or no movement of the base of support. Balance is a key element. It is an important foundation of many sports skills especially those encompassing finer motor patterns.
The third broad category of fundamental movement skills consists of manipulative skills. This is simply control of objects with the hands or the feet. The application to sport skill is obvious. In our society the emphasis in manipulative skill is on work with the hands to the exclusion of the feet. This is a deficiency that must be addressed in a sports development program. Throwing and striking skills fall into this category. Better awareness and use of the lower extremities will pay rich dividends.
In order to effectively transfer (translate) the broad movement categories into refined movement patterns we need movement awareness. Movement awareness consists of those abilities necessary to conceptualize and formulate an effective response to sensory information necessary to perform a desired task or motor skill. This is FUNdamental work. It should be fun and mental in that it requires concentration. In order to train the components of movement awareness it is best to create an environment where the athlete is given a task orientation. This means that the athlete is given movement problems to solve that will enable them to discover movement skills in a “play like” environment. “… one goal of functional training is to practice movements in order to make them automatic. Second, even though accomplished athletes may have little idea of what they focus on during skill execution, at some conscious or subconscious level they are focusing on relevant cues. For this reason, Singer et al advocated that skilled motor performance can be best achieved if learners adopt a nonawareness type strategy. Nonawareness refers to a lack of attention placed on the activity while it is in progress, but learners are instructed to preplan the movement and focus on a specific situational cue. “(Ives and Shelley p180) Nonawareness means having the athlete focus on solving a particular movement task rather than focusing on how they should move “correctly.” Movement is natural; by making it conscious there is a high risk of making it robotic.