You’re at the beach on a tranquil summer day and your friend pulls out the old Frisbee. You haven’t played in years but you feel nostalgic for past college days so you enthusiastically start throwing. Your first few throws cause your friend to run about ten feet to her left to retrieve the poor tosses (can you tell this is an autobiographical story?). Starting to feel bad, you focus on how to make the throws more accurate so your partner doesn’t abandon you for a refreshing beer. You take into account the information generated by the wild throws (all about 10 feet to her left) and compare them to where the Frisbee needs to go in order to hit your target. You think, if the Frisbee landed too far to her left then I need to aim further to her right on the next attempt. Based on this mental computation, you readjust your aim (and any potential bodily movements that you think will aid in successful execution) and try the next throw. What do you know, it worked! You just employed a powerful tool that serves to keep us safe and successful in life and on the field: error-detection.
In lay terms, error-detection is our ability to gauge the correctness of a movement and how far away an attempted movement might be from its ideal execution. Our ability to learn and improve would be severely limited if we didn’t make errors. They provide such valuable information if you know what to look for. However, some of my clients react to mistakes as if they are annoying reminders as to how incompetent or incapable they are. For people who are accustomed to learning quickly, often in academic or professional environments (a.k.a. “smart people”), failure to achieve rapid mastery over motor skills can cause them to get really frustrated (trainers have experienced all sorts of shocking language and unsavory behavior when clients struggle to “get” a movement). Teaching clients how mistakes can actually be good, informative learning material is a must for trainers. While we do want to encourage self-discovery and independent learning when clients experience new challenges we need to expand their learning repertoire by providing them with skills to be good error-detectors and correctors.
An example of a challenging movement that offers great potential to increase your error-detection abilities is the toe touch. This exercise is essentially a squat on one leg. You stand up straight with both arms out to the side, like a cross, while balancing on your left foot. Keeping your back straight with a neutral spine, bend down to touch the left foot with your right hand and stand back up. Sounds straightforward, right? Because the movement looks quite simple it causes even greater amounts of frustration for its deceptively difficult execution. For a client like Suzanne, who’s used to progressing at a fast rate, who ‘gets it’ quickly, this exercise can bring out her inner ugly.
After Suzanne’s first attempt, which looks like a failed sobriety test, she comments: “I have no balance.” I respond, “If that were true you’d be lying flat on the floor.” I encourage her to try to be objective about what she’s observing during the movement. So, she makes a second attempt and the same pattern repeats. Then I ask, “At what point in the movement do you lose your balance?” She looks at me quizzically so I narrow my focus, “Do you lose your balance on the way down or on the way up?” “On the way up” she answers. Then I ask her to hone in even more, “In what direction do you lose your balance?” She realizes that when she comes up she shifts to the right. I chime in, “Great, now we have just generated the correction. On the next rep, shift more to the left as you come up to counterbalance your weight.” Suzanne implements our strategy and correctly executes the movement. She gets to experience success and concludes that I’m a genius.
The key to developing the correct strategy is specifying what needs to happen when. My questions led Suzanne to objectively observe the movement and the resulting error. Armed with this information, she was able to implement the correct strategy at the appropriate point in the movement for a successful outcome. In addition to getting the movement “right,” Suzanne sharpened her observation skills, creating greater self-reliance when not under the watchful eye of her trainer.
It’s easy to curse a missed Frisbee throw or foul ball but paying attention to how you missed the execution—performing error-detection—will lead you on a path towards learning the appropriate correction.
Keep on Movin’