Originally published in Bowling This Month
All athletes go through several stages during the process of motor skills training.
During the first stage, the athlete must be given all the information needed to form an image of the movement being practiced in his or her mind.
The next stage is when the athlete starts to master the new movement. This stage is characterized by the conscious control of all actions, slow movements, a significant amount of errors, and being easily distracted by external or internal stimuli.
The final stage of skill mastery is evident when the athlete starts performing movements automatically, without conscious control, using an optimal rate of movement, with an error rate that is trending to zero, and has a stable resistance to external or internal distractions.
Forming the image of the skill in the mind
The role of the first stage of mastering a skill is often underestimated. It is critical that the information be delivered in a way that is accessible and understandable to the student so that they can form the correct image of movement within their mind. In my observations, sometimes 15 minutes effectively spent at this stage can save dozens of hours of training in the later stages of mastering a skill.
This important first stage will be discussed in this article, and I will include my experience with optimizing this process. Future articles will cover the next two stages.
Methods of image formation
As a coach, one must use all possible channels of education to help the athlete create the correct execution of the skill within their minds. The visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning modalities should be used effectively as needed for each student. In general, the effectiveness of training will increase significantly when a combination of these modalities is utilized.
In fact, the uptake rate and quality of understanding increase dramatically when combining all three perception channels. Research has shown that when using just auditory or visual channels separately, only 10% of new information is absorbed. The combination of audio and video helps to increase the uptake level to 50%. Adding the kinesthetic channel to the other two provides an optimal rate of 90% of new information being understood. Thus, the integrated approach of using all three learning modalities is the most efficient. Of course, the coach needs to recognize and take advantage of the athlete’s dominant channel of perception.
During the initial stage of skill training, it is necessary to create a complete field of information for a given skill set.
During the later stages of skill encoding, the most efficient implementation is to work with the channel of perception which “delivers” information in the form closest to the type and kind of thinking directly involved in the learning process and the implementation of a given skill. For example, when mastering a skill that predominantly uses spatial and visual thinking, it is usually most efficient to use the visual channel as the dominant one and the others as complementary. Or, if the proprioceptive senses are mostly involved, it is recommended to use the kinesthetic channel of perception as the dominant one and the other channels as complementary.
The critical role of spatial and visual thinking in bowling skill-building
Spatial thinking is an activity that helps the athlete create mental images which they can adapt to solve practical and theoretical problems. Following this definition, we understand that it is this kind of thinking that is dominant when we are teaching and training different skills in bowling. A well-developed sense of spatial thinking will greatly enhance the bowler’s ability to learn and understand many physical and analytical skills related to bowling.
In the bowling alley, where in addition to a good technical throw, the player is required to understand motion phase analysis of the ball along it’s path (skid, hook, and roll), changes in the oil pattern, types of pin action, and much more. In virtually all stages of the training process, spatial and visual thinking modalities are absolutely essential tools for a player’s success. Equally important is the development and the effective use of these kinds of learning modalities for the coach’s success in training their athletes.
Spatial and visual thinking in forming motor imagery
Spatial and visual thinking allows a player to simultaneously work on understanding technical elements of the physical game as well as forming motor imagery in the player’s mind (i.e. it can be used as the first stage of motor skill formation). Some elements of this technique are similar to the motor imagery practice, but it is simpler to use and does not require special training.
We must simplify the process of mentally visualizing a technique to the point that the player can easily press “play” in their mind in order to see the technique played out. The creation of a mental image of a practiced movement is a prerequisite for its further improvement. The rate of a player’s improvement depends largely on the degree of detail and accuracy given to this mental imagery. Plus, fine motor skills will be used to develop such thinking skills as reaction time, attention, coordination, imagination, observation, and visual and motor memory.
For using this training method, three things are needed: a video of a student’s shot, a video of an equivalent master’s shot (i.e. a bowler with similar physical and mental traits to the student), and a 12 inch tall mannequin, such as one used by art students and sold in stores like IKEA, Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, etc. Examples of the type of mannequins which are effective for this type of training are shown below.
- The coach and the student view the video of the student’s shot and discuss the technical elements which are to be worked on.
- The coach and the student view the video of the equivalent master shot and, once again, discuss the technical elements.
- Using the mannequin, create images of the necessary technical elements.
- Set the mannequin in the approach area of a lane or on the layout of a bowling lane for a more complete and correct understanding of the player’s position in the space.
- At the end of the process, ask the student to mentally reproduce all the movements in sequence.
After a while, your students will be able to easily adjust the image of the necessary technical elements in full, and “play” it at will in their imagination. This method is especially effective for young players.
Often, this method of training is not only useful, but it is also is a lot of fun. Give it a try in your own coaching sessions and see for yourself!