Movement is a language. It is a physical expression. Individual movements are words. When we string movements together in sequences we create sentences. As with any language there is a vocabulary and the larger your vocabulary the more detailed you can be in expressing yourself. A toddler cannot express themselves very well because they haven’t really grasped language yet, where as an English major can express themselves really well. The same applies to movement. The more movements you are capable of performing the better you can “express” yourself in your sport. The better you can deal with the conversation that arises on the field of play.
It the gym the typical athletes focus is usually:
The typical conditioning coach’s view is:
We need more than that. If you look at sport, movement is more chaotic than that. No we don’t necessarily need to strengthen in random or sports specific movements. We must however develop skill. The goal of training is to transfer the skills we develop to the arena of play. What we do in the gym must transfer to performance.
There are movement patterns that we need to strengthen and the best way to do that is with the basic barbell lifts.
Then there are transitional movements that we need to strengthen but more importantly we need to develop efficiency in these transitions
Finally there is Chaos. The random and unpredictable combinations of movements that happen in sport. We need to develop our ability to better handle this by improving our vocabulary.
We do this by exposing ourselves to a broad range of movements or variations of movements. The simplest version of this is cross training in other sports in the off season. Bringing in different elements of movements to your training.
We generally develop our movement vocabulary at an early age by playing a lot. By just doing a lot of different activities. Running, jumping, climbing trees, playing games, playing many different sports. Unfortunately that is happening less and less. More children are specialising in a sport earlier and earlier. They put all their focus in developing only one limited segment of movement. Which is the worst thing to do. Parents think they are going to develop the next great athlete by going all in on one sport from the age of 14, more likely they are creating the opposite. A child who grows to dislike the sport once their school career is done.
A child should develop general physical competency from an early age, they should play many different sports to develop their movement abilities and only specialise at a later age. The reality is little jimmy who has only been practicing rugby from the age of 14 and has been doing extra rugby skills in the off season won’t become a springbok. It is more likely that Steve the kid who played multiple sports throughout the year, but was physically competent and well developed will become the professional.
Examples of athletes with great movement vocabularies, they move efficiently and with purpose and are highly adaptable to the chaos that arises in their sport.
Sonny Bill Williams
How do you improve your vocabulary?
If you want to improve your vocabulary, the simple answer is to read. The more books you read about different topics and by different authors, the more you are exposed to. The more words you learn, the more sentences you read, the more variations of sentence structure and all the nuances of language you are exposed to and can absorb. The same goes for movement. Many different sports or activities have an overlap and exposing yourself to many different sports or activities allows you to move more in varied ways and absorb more skills and this you can then apply to your own sport.
Boxing and dance share an overlap in footwork
Rugby and wrestling share an overlap in manipulating another person’s body
Gymnastics and ballet share an overlap in body control and precise movements
Jiu jitsu and rock climbing overlap in body control, tension and relaxation
Learn in one area and apply what you learnt on another
Like Bruce lee said: Absorb what is useful discard what is useless and add what is uniquely your own.
If all you have is a hammer everything is a nail. The more tools you have the better you can deal with the situation.
A Movement vocabulary is a collection of tools.
So go Read (move). Read different books, not just your favourite one (try different things) the write your own story (play your own game).