Friday, August 20, 2010

Sport Science and the Learning Process

I have a huge interest in sport science.  This has come about through participation in parkour which is primarily a utilitarian discipline for overcoming obstacles.  Because of the utilitarian aspect of parkour, training focuses on developing functional (useful) physical capabilities.  This is embodied in the saying that is frequently associated with parkour: “ĂȘtre pour fort ĂȘtre utile” (to be strong to be useful).  The desire to help others is a strong motivation to improve my own physical capabilities and, with two brothers completing practical sport science degrees, I was indirectly influenced by (and convinced of) the power of a rational approach many years ago.

This post looks briefly at how I recognise my need for information, how I source information, and how I apply information.  The purpose of doing this is to demonstrate the learning process I have employed in my physical development so that others can do the same, or better.

My need for information
Every time I come up with a new goal for myself (often through seeing what others might do and wanting to emulate them), I can often see that I have no idea how to bridge the gap between their physical capabilities and my current ability.  Do you ever see a martial artist performing high kicks or breaking bricks and want to do the same?  Or perhaps an acrobat performing a somersault?  Unless you have tried (or thought about trying) those things, you probably won’t realise how much strength or technical proficiency is required.  If you have tried, you quickly realise that there is a seemingly unbridgeable gap to that level of ability.  What the good learner must do is decide to find out how to overcome that gap.  The temptation is to cast aside the lofty goal because it seems like too much work.  The thought that it is impossible to achieve shouldn’t occur to us because if others have done it, I should be able to also.  It might take me a little longer if I am a slower learner or have different physical aspects to overcome, but I can rest assured that if someone else can work at something and achieve it, so can I.

Without that desire to do things, I would never have a need for the information to improve myself.  And without an awareness that someone else has managed to find that information, I would not realise that it is actually possible, and that it should just be a matter of applying myself appropriately to achieve what that knowledge can allow me to achieve.

If you are a truly adventurous and creative person, you might even want to push the boundaries beyond what anyone else has achieved before.  You would do this by applying the same information differently, but that is another story for another time.

So how do I source my information?
In short, I use Google, YouTube, and I even talk to real people sometimes.  What I am looking for is information from someone else who has achieved my goal and accounts of their experiences.  

The challenge is to sort through the masses of information to find the most useful resources.  The most useful resources for me are those which communicate the relevant details in a clear and concise manner, while keeping the language relatively simple.  If a resource doesn’t give me the impression that it can quickly and easily communicate the information I want, I will discard it and keep searching.  For instance, learning to back flip (not parkour, but still a fun skill) I will go to YouTube and search for “backflip tutorial” and sort the search results according to the number of views.  The top two results have more than a million views and have been available for 3 years.  This gives me confidence in them so I will open both to view them.  While I am waiting for the videos to load (thank you slow NZ internet) I will have a quick look at some of the comments posted to get further knowledge of whether it is worth waiting for that video to load or not.

Taking note of comments that people have taken the time to write, about the resources they have actually used, is one of the most useful tools for finding the best information, especially if you are considering paying for it.  I came across the best stretching resource this way, and that lead me to a publisher that has pretty much all of the information relating to physical development that I could ever require:

How I have applied the information
I’m not intending this section to be a list of my achievements, but if you want an idea of what can be achieved by almost anyone with a bit of dedication check out

It might be better to rephrase the section heading as “How I can make the best use of the information to achieve the goals that I have set for myself".  There are a set of qualities that will see you through, and that you must develop to become efficient at applying the knowledge.  Some of these things are: self discipline, self motivation, a vision for the future, humility, perseverance, creativity, self awareness, a realistic point of view, emotional control, patience.  Some of these are obvious, such as having the self discipline to stick with a precise course of action over a long period of time (perhaps years or decades) and being able to use your view of the future achievement of goals to motivate yourself.  

Less obvious is the place of humility, which you must have in order to take a realistic look at your current knowledge and practice to see if it is wrong.  It can be hard to admit you are wrong or that you have wasted your time and money on something.  This pride will cause you to continue using methods that don’t work.  

If you can’t control emotions of frustration, you may give up on a good idea too fast.  Sometimes you must be patient and not try to do too much.  In sporting fields especially, rest is vital and over training is a sure way to reduce progression and increase frustration at slower than usual  progress.

For technical skills involving movement, you must develop the self awareness to “listen” to your body.  Being constantly aware of the feedback your body gives you, such as pain or smoothness of movement, is one of the most powerful sources of information to govern how you refine skills.

There are many more attributes, but you should be able to get the general idea from these few examples.  I hope this knowledge can be applied successfully in your own life, as it has greatly improved mine and others before me.