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Coaching the Blacksmith?

In the previous blog, the image of the blacksmith demonstrated that while the hammer consistently struck the object, his movement pattern was different every time. And yet, how often have you heard a TV commentator remark that a player has a repeatable swing or delivery? Or we need to practice in order to have a repeatable swing or delivery? All the time, right? However, the image of the blacksmith in Bernstein’s study demonstrates that is not true. He may have had a successful outcome, but he was definitely not repeating his hammer delivery the same way every time.

How does the Blacksmith learn to consistently strike an object? Is he trained like we would program a computer? Is he given, precise input (ex. Placement of feet, hands, knee flexion etc.) that will produce, after the brain processes it, an expected performance result? In the computer analogy, the performance result has to be known by the blacksmith and programmed by the coach. Otherwise no “correct” response is possible since it has not been programmed into the brain. If the blacksmith messes up, he will correct by repetition in order to get the “right” outcome. Trying to copy and reproduce an ideal mechanical model has been a common practice in training. Often this ideal model input is done through ideal positioning of body parts, or cues such as “balance point, power position” etc.

But does human motor control actually operate like a computer. Are movements stored in a memory bank and recalled and executed in a “top down” manner? What kind of processing power would it take to execute this process in the fractions of a second it takes for an MLB hitter to execute his swing on a 95 MPH fastball. That is also changing planes.

Refer to walking robot with no computer or wires video:


In the embedded video, Cornell University developed a walking passive robot that needed no wires or computer in order for it to walk. All it needed was a slight slope, and gentle push and the robot walks. The ability to walk was built in to the system. There is not a coach giving the robot instructions on how to walk through computer code.

So, how does the Blacksmith learn to strike an object with seemingly great precision time and again? Ultimately, the Blacksmith is concerned with one goal: striking the object. He will organize his movements based upon that goal. Over time, it is the goal that guides the Blacksmith’s precision strikes.

More from Dr. Bosch in his book: “Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach”…

“The fact that there is a coach on hand to say whether the movement has been executed

rightly or wrongly may well be of interest to the athlete’s obedient consciously cognitive

brain – but the body couldn’t care less. As far as the body is concerned, the coach’s

instructions are nothing more than chitchat. It will briefly attempt to do what has been

asked of it – but it certainly won’t store it away in a memory system. Forget it at soon as

you can, says the body, otherwise your motor memory will get clogged up. The main thing

the body learns is how it itself perceives the execution of a movement pattern. The body is

interested in the result, and uses this to guide its control of the learning process…..”

At MPH101, we try to create a differential learning environment for our player’s that is goal directed and less coaching centered. As Bosch states, “The body has very little interest in what the coach has to say.”

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