A client from Holland kindly sent me a link to a video last week of a basketball academy from Belgium doing some pretty unconventional training and asked for my thoughts on it.
I suggest you take a quick look at the video (not the same video but from the same academy) before you read on but if you can't, you'll get the gist as you read on.
Lately, introducing multitasking into sports drills is becoming quite the trend. As you see in that video, it requires the development of tremendous coordination for some of these tasks to be carried out. If you've ever tried anything like this, you'll agree that there's a lot of fun to be had doing these novel tasks.
I know in my days as a football freestyler I dreamed the seemingly impossible dream of being able to juggle two balls at once with my feet. The guy in the picture above can juggle five balls at once while standing on a giant ball. He must have had some fun, challenging times to get to this level!
My days as a football freestyler didn't make me any better as a footballer. I'm guessing unless the juggler in the picture practises his football equally as much as his juggling, he won't be as good in a game as he is at juggling. Th basketball players in the clip who clearly demonstrate impressive coordination will not necessarily take this with them into games unless it is somehow contextualise.
Let me expand upon a few contradictory points that I take out of this:
- To get better an activity, you have to practise the activity and activities very closely related to it. Playing basketball, I will never have to throw and catch a tennis ball back and forward with somebody during the game but I will have to keep control of the ball while I am knocked around therefore this type of drill is clearly more contextually applicable than a tennis ball drill. But then people may play basketball a lot and not get better because of a lack of practise of what is commonly known as "deliberate practise". It's also true that some people who make lots of deliberate practise also don't get any better. How does this happen?
- I have worked with people on a very general basis completely removed from their sporting context and helped them make changes at a very fundamental level (how they use their senses and nervous system to move themselves through their environment) and they have went back into their sport and performed markedly better immediately. The higher the degree of athletic freedom and control of oneself one has, the more able they are to express themselves in their sport given their knowledge and experience of it. I contend that an athlete who is ideal in this way would learn new sports much faster than the less free counterpart.
- Multitasking is a great way to introduce novelty into practise which can stimulate new learning and it also has the side-effect of removing us from the task at hand if other tools are implemented (as in the case of the tennis ball, etc). I think that the same effect can be made without losing contextual relevance by focusing on more details of the same task. For a footballer practising free-kicks, that may mean zooming in on details that they don't usually pay so much attention to (which panel of the ball they kick, where their standing foot it in relation to the ball, how easily they can pay attention to all the above while also noticing the changing positions of the goalkeeper, the wall and the other players, etc). With a horse rider, rather than juggling while sat on the back of their horse, they can pay attention to how equally they are using their hands, where they shift their weight in sitting as they move with their horse and where they can feel their horse is contacting the ground, etc.
I'm terming this becoming more absorbed with more components of the same act MONOTASKING. You heard it here first!
I realise this hasn't been the most linear or coherent piece I have ever written but if skill acquisition and development in sports was a straightforward, formulaic matter, we would all be as good as we want to be.
Respect to all of you engaged in multitasking activities. You have developed impressive skills. If those skills have transferred to your main sport, great. If you've became more interested in the drills than the sport, also fine. If your sport is still of primary interest and multitasks aren't giving you good return for your time invested, then maybe you have something to think and do differently.
Arton "The Monotasker" Baleci
Float Sting - Sports Injury Rehab and Performance, Harley Street, London, W1
P.S. I have a one day event I'm co-presenting in London on August 20th. More news soon!