Bull Whip Calamity: The Importance of Movement Analysis
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:
- At the starting point of the movement
- Where large amounts of energy (muscle activity) are gathered/required
- Where a wide divergence of energy (movement options) might occur
- Where the energy transfers from one body segment to another
- Where the energy or the movement changes directions
- Where time pressure exists
- Where lack of stability would result in system failure (injury)
- At the end point of the movement
- 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.