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Defining chaos, then training for it.

One thing I really enjoy doing on my instagram page is analysing the movement solutions that athletes use across various sports, including Gaelic games, rugby codes, football, tennis, MMA. The primary reason behind the content I post is that I enjoy looking at it. There is no money in it for me, I just enjoy looking and exploring why people are successful in various situations, and what they might be considering when faced with a movement puzzle in the heat of battle.

Here is an example:

A video I posted, with the following caption:

”Even in a very short space of time, acting on present affordances (opportunities for action), creates new affordances.

Attacker collects the ball on the boundary line. Does not have many options, so moves off the boundary line to create space for the shot on his left foot. As he acts on this option, he creates another option - space for the shot on his right foot. Defender commits to the block on attacker’s left foot, attacker steps back inside and scores off his right. Class 🏉

Perceive to Act. Act to Perceive. 🔁”

Another example, from a different sport:

Another video I posted, with the folling caption:

"Cheslin Kolbe. Everyone knows what’s coming but so hard to stop.

Acceleration down the line, a gap opens up between first and second defender. Plants right foot outside COM and cuts inside.

Great strength and power to accelerate fast out of sharp cut, having moved quickly into the cut too."

I have posted a number of times using MMA and boxing clips - Conor McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Canelo Alvarez etc. - but by far, the best MMA analysis comes from Dan Hardy on his breakdown show. See here for a breakdown on Israel Adesanya, one of my favourite MMA fighters. Well worth the 15 minute watch, which could possibly turn into a 3 hour dive down a Dan Hardy-shaped rabbit hole.

Another doing great work in the sport movement space is Shawn Myska (see twitter @MovementMiyagi). He has started to branch in to some MMA analysis too (much more in depth than mine), but he produces some incredibly detailed movement reports on players catching the eye in the NFL (American football). Check out his site here.

Reverse Engineering Performance

While this is something that really started out as a personal interest, it can have a major positive impact on performance preparation. An image that has come up in a previous article is the reverse engineering training process, something that I have adapted from product engineering.

A reverse engineering training process.

If the whole process could be summarised in one line, it would be "start with the end in mind" (as per Steven Covey). The purpose of training is to prepare for the game/fight/event/competition. In order to plan a training programme, you must understand what the competition demands.

Sport movement analysis assists in defining what the demands of competition are. Breaking down some of the movement skills that an attacker has can help defenders prepare. Ensuring training is as chaotic as a game can prepare attacker to adapt to their environment on game-day, and identify a solution to fit the game-day environment. A key word however is "assists". Sport movement analysis is not the only thing practitioners should do to define the game demands - GPS can be a useful tool for field sports in this regard. Sport movement analysis is a small (and important) cog in a big wheel.

I have previously touched on representative learning design here, which I described as:

"The training environment needs to reflect the game environment, in particular the information used to guide actions on the field. Representative training design will help players become more attuned to relevant sources of information, to aid their decision making in a game."

This is how sport movement analysis can aid training prescription. By explicitly defining some of the task constraints that players are faced with in a game, training can be designed to consist of similar task constraints, ultimately with the aim of aiding game-day performance. I have also referred to this concept previously here, where I have referred to it as fishtanking:

"Fishtanking for skill development essentially preserves all the fundamental parts of an ecosystem and requires the athlete to practice their interaction with the environment. For example, a fishtank still contains water, rocks, and seaweed, and the fishtank is representative of the ocean. The same concept applies when designing practice activities for anything, but especially agility training. All fundamental parts of the playing environment must remain intact. This may include rules and opposition for example, that make the training activity representative of the sport."

Some of my "fishtanking" experiences

Below are some examples of activities I have used ro assist in preparing players for their transition from 15s to 7s rugby.

1v1 evasion activity. Defender kicks the ball to attacker. Attacker retrieves the ball and is then tasked with tryong to beat the defender 1 on 1, staying within the 15m line and touch line. Attacker is aiming to cross the 10m line in the opposite half.

This shows a nice warm up activity, to prepare players for the session ahead. The defender provides the stimulus, and whatever direction the defender goes, the attacker must hit the opposite cone. Then it's a 1v1 contest, attacker trying to score between the red cones, defender trying to get a touch on attacker.

Classic bulldog variation, 4 attackers v 2 defenders. All players start by touching the coach (or a cone). On the coach's call, defenders must touch the try line and attackers touch the 10m line marked by cones. Attackers try to cross the try line without being tagged by either defender.

Youth Athlete vs Adult Athlete

I think this is such an interesting contrast. Being a skillful mover requires some exceptional physical qualities, but having exceptional physical qualities does not guarantee a skill mover. Referring back to Newell's model of interacting constraints (see image below), performance is the result of the interaction between the individual (player/performer) and his/her environment. If a performer with exceptional physical qualities is not attuned to the right pieces of information, then her performance has a significant limit. However,a performer with exceptional physical qualities also has access to a great affordance landscape (has a greater number of opportunities for action) than a performer with less developed physical qualites.

Davids et al. (2003). Newell’s model of interacting constraints adapted to illustrate

the resulting effects on variability of physical performance.

To attempt to illustrate what I mean, I will use the following clip:

There are two things to note from the video:

1) Every step is on his left foot. This may not be the case over the course of a full game, as these clips are only highlights,

2) The player has incredible strength to be able to step so powerfully off his left foot, so far away from his centre of mass, often hopping on his left foot prior to a cut, and being able to do it at such speed.

Because of his highly developed physical capacities, he is able to see opportunities that other individuals may not. Because he can see different opportunities, he is able to act in a way that others can't. Perceive to Act. Act to Perceive. 🔁

To get to this end point, with an adult player having such high quality evasion skills, I believe there are two paths, broadly speaking:

1) Starting at a young age, players develop their evasion skills through games (not just a single sport, but a wide variety), and as the young player grows, the physical qualities of the young player develops simultaneously through the exposure to various game scenarios, which is supplemented by isolated athletic development.

2) If a player has not developed their evasion skills from a young age, then greater emphasis needs to be placed on isolated athletic development, as with any evasion manouvre there is a very high load going through the joints of the leg, and if the leg isn't strong enough to tolerate that load then serious injury can occur, like ACL rupture.

*note: evasion skills refer to both attacking and defending - ability to create space/separation (attack) , or ability to close space (defend). Looking at the video below, being able to close the gap with control is an important skill:

Instagram caption: How does Khabib close the space against an opponent who only wants to keep the space and is known for his striking ability. Pressure, pace and patience.

Pressure - always bringing the fight to his opponent, rather than waiting for his opponent to come to him.

Pace - this enables him to put pressure on his opponent, forcing his opponent to back up when they are trying to keep the space. It’s much easier to fight moving forward than it is to move backward or sideways, and Khabib spends much of this fight moving forward. In this clip, how many backwards steps does Khabib take?

Patience - Khabib wants to take his opponent down, he is applying pressure and keeping a high pace. But he does not mindlessly dive in for a takedown, instead he is patient and he waits for the best opportunity. He tries on one occasion, does not get the takedown, so he reverts to pressure and pace, before securing a takedown (full fight here).

Of the two broad pathways, the first option is my preference. I liken it to a young driver learning to drive. Would you rather a driver learn to drive in a fiat punto or a ferrari? My guess is a fiat punto, because if something bad were to happen, the fiat punto is not as powerful, so less likely to be travelling at a higher speed, so less damage would be done. The same concept can be applied to young athletes. They are not as strong, so when they step outside their centre of mass to make a cut, then they are less likely to get injured as there is less force in the step. With each step the young player makes, they will get stronger, and by the time they get to adult level, they could possibly have made thousands of cuts, and will have gained physical strength from each one.


This article is a brain dump of some of the things I look at when I am working with a group of players or individuals. How can I really have a positive effect on the player's preparation. For me, this makes my job much more interesting, There is much more to a player's development than getting bigger/stronger/more powerful in the gym (that is important too). I am excited to continue to explore in this area as I look to better myself, as well have a positive impact on those around me.


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