by Thomas Kurz
Speed of learning and the ability to perfect movements depend on the size of one’s stored experiences of movements (“movement erudition”). Yes, those who have more will get more, easier.
This is why well-trained athletes do a wide variety of exercises besides those that are sport-specific for them and practice techniques of other sports.
Such non-sport-specific or general technical training provides athletes with this movement erudition. Learning a sport’s techniques is easier if the skills formed in the course of this general technical training are included in sport-specific skills (techniques). For example, a number of gymnastic techniques are used in the process of learning to pole vault or to figure skate.
To use gymnastic techniques to prepare for the pole vault, the athlete has to learn these techniques; to use weights for strength development, the athlete has to learn the technique of lifts; to use swimming to develop endurance or as active rest, the athlete has to learn swimming strokes. But there are more benefits of enlarging one’s store of movement skills than just the positive transfer of some movement patterns to sport-specific skills or acquiring alternative means of conditioning. Movement coordination and the overall ability to learn and perfect movements also improve in the process of learning new skills.
The richer the athlete’s store of movement skills, the more skills he or she can easily learn or change (Bompa 1994; Matveyev [Matveev] 1981).
Wazny (1992c) warns that not introducing new exercises may slow down the learning of new techniques. He gives an example of advanced, experienced athletes who for a long time settled into a routine of known exercises and had more difficulty mastering new techniques than athletes of lesser standing who were continuously exposed to new exercises.
There are more benefits of learning new skills than just increasing learning capacity, better coordination, and positive transfer of movement patterns: There are also mental benefits if the new skills require considerable will or overcoming natural inhibitions, such as when learning somersaults. Resulting mental toughness and greater self-confidence help in every sport—actually in every endeavor.
Learning skills such as gymnastic vaults, revolutions on the bars, or tumbling, which to be performed safely need to be done decisively and without hesitation, develops courage and decisiveness as well as improves elements of coordination, such as spatial orientation and movement synchronization.
My professor of gymnastics told us in one of his lectures that, prior to World War I, gymnastic exercises, especially vaults, were used extensively in the Imperial German Army to train soldiers. This was because gymnastic vaults develop decisiveness needed for bayonet charges—once you decide to go (or are ordered to), you can’t hesitate or you will get hurt.
Many coaches include gymnastic apparatus exercises and tumbling in their training programs. Athletes in a wide variety of sports practice gymnastic techniques so they can benefit from the improved movement coordination and mental qualities that such exercises develop.
For full references quoted in this article, see Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance.
This article is based on the book Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance. Get the book now and have all of the info—not just the crumbs! Order now!
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