Welcome back MovNatters! In our last installment we examined some of the supporting science, specifically motor skill classification within the task perspective of motor learning theory, and how it can help you to better understand the underlying constructs of the MovNat methodology and how it can make you a better mover. In this installment, we’ll take a look at the MovNat methodology from the relative importance of motor and cognitive elements perspective of motor skill classification, followed by the third and final method used to classify motor skills, levels of environmental complexity and predictability, in the fourth installment of this six part series.
Motor Skill Classification—Motor & Cognitive Elements
In installment #2 of “Why MovNat,” we learned about motor skill classification based on the task perspective of motor learning, which provides movement practitioners with a method for classifying and distinguishing one task from another. Let’s continue on with our study of methods used to classify and characterize tasks using a second method based on the relative importance of motor and cognitive elements in task performance.
With motor skill performance, the primary determinant of movement success is the quality of the movement itself rather than the perceptual or decision-making aspects of the task. For example, a high-jumper in track-and-field knows exactly where the bar is placed and what he/she needs to do (clear the bar) in order to consider the movement a success. The challenge for this athlete is to produce movements that maximize vertical height. On the other hand, with a cognitive skill, the nature of the movement is less important to performance success than is the decision or strategy dictating the movement or task. The challenge with this type of movement or skill is in determining what, when, and how to move or perform a task in order to maximize the chances of success. Going back to our example in the last installment: the task to accomplish is to get on top of a flat rock outcropping on the other side (from where you are standing) of a small ravine: broad jump across a small ravine to a basic forward roll (or general landing), followed by a running vertical jump to a climb up. The goal here is to get you from one place to another using the most practical and efficient movements that are best suited to the environmental and situational demands at-hand. This type of situation requires a greater reliance on cognitive ability (determining how to overcome the situation or obstacle) rather than focusing on the motor aspects of the performance. Of course, both elements are instrumental to the success of the movement; however, the cognitive element in this sort of situation is of greater importance.
In short, a cognitive skill is one that primarily emphasizes knowing what to do, whereas a motor skill mainly emphasizes correctly performing it. Notice that I used the words primarily and mainly in the previous sentence. This is because a purely cognitive skill and a purely motor skill lie at opposite ends of a continuum, with most skills lying somewhere in between. Therefore, the more appropriate approach to classifying skills and movements according to this method is to consider the degree to which perceptual and cognitive elements (such as knowing what to do) and motor elements (correctly performing the skill) contribute to successful goal achievement. Hence the reason motor skills are sometimes referred to as psychomotor skills or perceptual-motor skills.
A great example of how someone can travel along the continuum between cognitive skills and motor skills is an athlete undergoing rehabilitation after having reconstructive knee surgery. In this scenario, the athlete may need to think more (cognitive) about what to do when walking (e.g. heel strike, balanced posture) because he/she can no longer produce the movement automatically. After considerable treatment, however, the individual may not have to think as much about what to do, thus moving along the movement continuum so a point where the skill becomes more “motor” in nature. Similarly, with the learning and practice of a new skill from the MovNat methodology, you may spend a great deal of time deciding what to do and how to do it, whereas after many practice (or movement) sessions, you eventually get to the level of competency that you are able to “just perform” the movement or skill with little thought. Rarely, however, do either cognitive or motor elements become entirely unimportant or inessential to successful performance.
In closing, even highly skilled movement practitioners, such as MovNat Founder Erwan Le Corre, who are able to perform complex movements under varying environmental and situational contexts, are sometimes required to think about what they need to do. At the end of the day, the goal is ultimately to become a better mover than you were yesterday. To become a better mover, you have to move often and under varying degrees of environmental and situational (contextual) demands. MovNatter, move better.
In the next installment of this series we’ll take a closer look at motor skill classification according to the method of skill characterization using levels of environmental predictability, taking into consideration environmental and situational demands. Until next time, get out and MovNat!