Functional Training Zones

Program Design to Maximize Game Speed

By: Nick Winkelman, MSc, CSCS, NSCA-CPT

As coaches, trainers, and therapists, we constantly search for ways to bridge therapy to performance and performance to sport. This allows us to limit injuries, optimize performance, and see the fruits of our (training) labor realized during competition.

This scenario, however, doesn’t always play out in a predictable manner. Instead, the athletes might underperform or reinjure themselves. This can be both puzzling and frustrating as we’re not dealing with ineffective programming. We’re likely working with athletes that are pain free, showcasing effective mobility and stability, and demonstrating strong performance in the weight room.
So we’re left to wonder: Is it enough to optimize mobility, stability, strength and power, energy systems development, and recovery, or are we missing something? Conventional wisdom suggests we are indeed missing something.

Consider a Formula 1 race car built for optimal performance. No expense is spared to develop and build this vehicle; however, without a driver that knows how to operate it, the car will never be handled safely, let alone pushed to its full capacity. So what does this tell us about training? It suggests that working solely on physical qualities is important for sport, but doesn’t guarantee that the athlete knows how to use those qualities effectively.

For these reasons, we’ll place our emphasis on integrating movement skills into a performance and rehabilitation program, and present a model for identifying, prioritizing, and correcting movement errors.
At EXOS, we use a three-component model to coach and correct movement skills. This model consists of a technical component, an error component, and a coaching component, which we refer to as the TEC model in this series. Before we launch into the 12-part series, we’ll take some time here to describe each component. This structure will remain consistent as we discuss specific movement skills in the segments to follow.

Before we present the model, it’s important to clarify what is meant by movement skills. In this article, and the 12 that follow, movement skills refer to sport-relevant movements that dominate the sports of the athletes we’re supporting.

Movement skills can be broken into linear (e.g., acceleration and absolute speed) and multidirectional (e.g., change of direction, shuffle, crossover, and deceleration) speed. While these movements are developed within the context of sport, we can’t control how often they occur. So it’s important to develop each skill (e.g., acceleration) and skill sequence (e.g., sprint to deceleration to crossover and sprint) within the context of training. This allows us to identify any errors that, left unchecked, could lead to injury. There also will be neuromuscular adaptations that result from movement skill training, and these adaptations bridge the weight room to sport.

Technical component
When we coach movement skills it’s critical to have a technical model as the benchmark to evaluate athletes against. We need an idea of what “relatively perfect” technique looks like. Once we establish a technical model, we can classify and prioritize errors, which are deviations from the model.

There are many ways to describe technique, but perhaps the most practical is to break it into positions and patterns. Position refers to the actual positioning of the limbs, range of motion, and symmetry that should be present at a specific point or phase of a movement. Since there are infinite positions within a given movement, it’s important to identify critical positions (CP). We can then describe CPs using optimal range of motion in degrees, for instance. Once we’ve identified our CPs, then we want to describe the pattern. Pattern refers to the coordinative strategy used to get from one CP to the next (acceleration example: CP-1 “Triple Extension at Toe Off” – Pattern 1 “Leg Recovery through Flight,” CP-2 “Triple Flexion at Toe Off” – Pattern 2 “Leg Drive through Ground Contact,” repeat). We can use kinematic descriptors if we’re doing video analysis, or we can use more general descriptors like “the legs should exchange in a linear, piston-like action during acceleration” if we’re capturing the essence of the pattern. Together, position and pattern descriptors provide a technical framework, which is the first step in understanding what we should be coaching during a movement skill session.

Error component
Once we’ve identified the critical positions and patterns associated with our technical model, we need to identify the errors that can arise. For example, if a neutral spine is desired during acceleration, and we’ve identified this as a one of our critical positions, then we would classify trunk flexion and/or trunk rotation as primary errors (PE). We would continue to follow this logic until we’ve mapped our primary movement errors to their associated critical position and/or pattern (example: CP-1 “Triple Extension at Toe Off” = PE-1 “Inadequate hip extension at toe off”). Once we’ve identified our primary movement errors, we then prioritize the errors from most important to least important. (Note that each movement will only have three to five primary errors.) When prioritizing, give consideration to how movement errors affect one another. For example, flexion in the trunk will limit an athlete’s ability to effectively flex their hip during acceleration. If you see an error associated with trunk position and an error associated with hip flexion, then you’re better off correcting the trunk issue as this might also help with the hip flexion error. You would continue to follow this logic until you have your errors prioritized. As we’ll discuss in the next section, you focus on the top one or two errors in an attempt to correct the movement with the least amount of verbal information.

The error model is critical as it allows you to limit the amount of errors you’re trying to correct through the process of prioritization. This is important, as effective coaching requires us to focus the athlete on the one or two elements that will lead to performance and injury prevention, while minimizing excessive information that could lead to confusion or paralysis by analysis.

Coaching model
Once you’ve a clearly defined technical model and a prioritized error model, it’s time to institute the strategies you’ll use to correct the errors. From a coaching perspective there are two ways to deal with errors. You can map specific cues, analogies, and metaphors to each error or you can map corrective drills that help build the physical qualities and/or the kinesthetic context (e.g., sense of coordination) needed to overcome the error. The key is to map the strategy — cue or drill — to the error. This closes the TEC circle and provides a coaching system for each movement skill.

While the next 12 articles will bring the TEC model to life through movement skills, please don’t feel constrained by the guidelines and examples we provide. If you feel there are critical positions that we didn’t mention, or there are cues that aren’t listed, feel free to make the TEC model your own. Our goal is to provide a framework that pulls the science out of the art of coaching. We want to spotlight the importance of teaching and integrating movement skills, as this training component is essential in transferring performance to sport. Finally, this model is grounded in motor learning and provides a means to upgrade the rate and quality with which your athletes will learn movement skills.

Read other articles in the series here.  (ulr should be:

Learn more by taking one of our online courses.  (url should be: