Bull Whip Calamity: The Importance of Movement Analysis

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The summer after I graduated from high school, I needed a job.  As a three sport athlete, I was at a practice or a game just every day of my life , so having a regular job had been out of the question.  Now I was heading off to college and needed to spend the summer making cash to allay some of the ancillary costs.  A lot of my friends worked in our little mall, so I thought that might be an option.  I walked into every store and filled out applications until my hands, head, and neck were sore.  Unfortunately, no one wanted to hire an 18 year-old with no work experience who would be leaving for college in three months. One Sunday morning after church, I was talking with my girlfriend’s uncle about needing some work.  He owned a dairy farm with about sixty-five cows located about ten miles outside of town.  “Randy, have you ever been around cattle?” He asked.  

Suspecting an impending job offer, I had to think fast.  “Yessir.” I replied. “I’ve been around cattle all my life.  I love cows … yeah … I’m a big cow guy.”  

I had never actually touched a cow.  The closest I had ever come to a cow was seeing one on TV.  

He cut his eyes suspiciously and said, “Be at the farm and ready to work tomorrow at 5:00 am.”

That night, I was so excited I could hardly sleep.

At 5:00 am sharp I was at the Dairy Farm sporting an old pair of jeans, a t-shirt and my Dad’s old Air Force combat boots.  Upon arrival, I met my new boss, a tall, thin, leathery-skinned cowboy named Willie.  After showing me around the milk house doors and the pumping machines, Willie handed me a 10 ft bull whip, grabbed one for himself and said, “Welp, let’s go rustle up some doggies.” 

As the sun was rising, we walked to a pond at the edge of the property where most of the cattle were lounging.  Willie approached the herd, swung his whip overhead and snapped it forward with a loud crack.  After a few more cracks of the whip, the cows began meandering toward the milk house.  I stood there in awe, watching Willie do his thing until he glanced at me and said, “Welp.  Let’s go.  Round em up.”  

Startled, I jogged around to head off a few wandering pups.  When cows didn’t yield to my waving arm,  I clutched the handle of my whip.  Obviously, I had never cracked a whip before — heck, I had never been this close to a cow before — but I figured, “Why not?  How hard could it be?”  

Aping Willie’s technique, I raised the whip handle overhead, spun it counter clockwise and snapped it forward.  

In my mind, it was supposed to look like this:

But in reality, it was more like this:

I crumbled to the ground and laid on the ground writhing, moaning and slobbering into a cocktail of dirt, tobacco spit, and cow manure.  It was an epic fail and my new boss was …  underwhelmed.  

I survived the day but never learned to crack a bullwhip.  Willie gave me a stick with a 2 ft rope on the end that made a slight ticking sound.  My tiny pseudo-whip was incredibly emasculating, but I showed up every day and was able to collect a cool $70 per week in exchange for working 12 hours per day for next 6 weeks.  So … I had that going for me … which is nice. 

In baseball and in life, as we mature, we all feel the angst of regret about what we didn’t know in our youth.  “If I had only known then what I know now.” is a a common refrain among many of the coaches I know.  Now that I am equipped with a deeper understanding of motor learning and skill acquisition science, I realize that I made one critical error early in my development as young “whipper snapper” (aside from lying about not having any experience whatsoever as a cowboy).  Before I ever attempted the first crack, I should have begun with a thorough analysis of the movement.  

Under our Dynamic Systems Theory approach to training, the proper first step in teaching any motor skill is to conduct a movement analysis to identify the attractors — the parts of the movement that must be stable.  So how does one identify attractors in a movement?  

Well, there are nine places in a movement to where you’re likely to find an attractor:  

  1. At the starting point of the movement 
  2. Where large amounts of energy (muscle activity) are gathered/required
  3. Where a wide divergence of energy (movement options) might occur
  4. Where the energy transfers from one body segment to another
  5. Where the energy or the movement changes directions
  6. Where time pressure exists
  7. Where lack of stability would result in system failure (injury)
  8. At the end point of the movement 
  9. Where the energy is dissipated after the movement is complete. 

To simplify my understanding of how to identify a movement attractor, I like to think of the movement as a vast pipeline running from an oil field in … say … Wyoming  or Canada out to a  group of tankers in a port in the Gulf of Mexico.  

We would certainly want the well itself to be stable, strong and safe (#1: starting point).  We would also need the storage tanks at the well site to be reinforced/stable so the oil would not leak out(.  #2 gathering of energy).  Any time we a had a place in the pipeline where the pipeline split into several different forks/pathways, we would want that junction to be stable (#3 divergence point).  Places where the oil was transferred from one large segment to another, we would and that transfer point to be reinforced (#4: transfer point).  If the pipeline ran up against some sort of immoveable obstacle and had to sharply change directions, we would want that turning point to be reinforced and strong (#change of direction).  If we had some sort of timing switch (like a train junction) where if the oil didn’t arrive on time, it would be shifted to a less optimal path (#6 time pressure).  Any component of the pipeline that, if it collapsed, would lead to total system failure, we would want to ensure that part is stable and safe  (#7 injury).  The point at which the oil is delivered to storage tanks at the port, we would want those tanks to be strong and stable (#8 end point).  And finally, the tankers that ultimately distribute the oil all over the world would need to be sturdy and safe as well.  

So let’s take a deeper look at the movement that caused my failure as a cowboy — the overhead whip crack.  

Here’s my movement analysis:

If you’re serious about player development, understanding how to conduct a movement analysis is critical, and we have some great news!

When it comes to pitching and hitting, we’ve already done all the hard work for you. At the 2019 FBR/SOS Baseball Skill Acquisition Summit, Oct 12th and 13th, we’ll give you the key attractors and, more importantly, we’ll equip you with all the tools you’ll need to design laser-targeted, individualized training plans that maximize your players’ return on training time.

86,400 seconds in every day … that’s what you have. That’s what we all have. Making your 86,400 better than the other guy’s … that’s the edge. Click on the button below and let us help you help your players get that edge.

We’ll see you at The Ranch.

Randy Sullivan, MPT
CEO, Florida Baseball Ranch

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