Do We Really Understand What “The Foundation” Is?

Contributed by speed coach, Lee Taft,

Many coaches and Trainers, including me, have loosely thrown around the phrase “We have to build a foundation first”. But do we really know what we mean, or if we know what we mean is it correct? And if its correct, is it always correct?

We think of the foundation often as this category of work that sets the stage for future development, but in reality we should never stop doing the work that builds the foundation. If we agree that a foundation is important for future growth maybe its important enough to keep with as we grow. Something to think about.

A Foundation can be described as a set of skills and mental proficiency that allows higher level skills or thinking to be achieved or worked towards. A foundation can also be described as holding tank of baseline skills of which greater skills can grow from. My question is what determines the foundational skills and how do we know we are creating the foundation correctly?

What I’m after in this post is, do we actually know what skills make up a foundation versus other skills and how those skills should be attained. For example; Do we attack patterns of movement or a skill that is a subset of a movement pattern. In sports, all kids should learn to catch, throw, strike a ball with a stick or bat, shoot, dribble, track objects, etc. In movement all kids should learn to run straight, skip, shuffle and crossover sideways, change direction, jump, land, spin, avoid, chase, etc.

In movement we can say moving straight is most natural, then add in lateral, change of direction and jumping/landing skills. But what builds the foundation? Is it our pre-determined movement progression or is the child’s exposure to seeing sport/activities and mimicking. I have seen 4 year old’s perform unbelievable athletic skills yet 11 year old’s not be able to backpedal or skip. So was the 4 year old’s foundation better- or did he get greater exposure to skills through watching and mimicking? Was his foundation better than the 11 year old’s- if so can we randomly attack rote foundational skills to young kids and achieve the same results as if we put these kids in the environment in which they witness movements and drew connections in their brain and then attempted to mimic and develop through trial and error.

How many kids in Brazil grew up watching great skills being performed in soccer, in a dirt lot, or backyard and simply joined in and mimicked what they saw until the neural pathways took over. How many kids watched basketball players in Rucker park with incredible handles and practiced these skills on the sideline, until they had incredible handles. This goes on in all sports all over the world.

The foundation of sport skills, can be developed by coaching it, but can this out perform the foundation created by the child’s brain processing what he/she sees by watching and creating the mental pathways of their superstars performing it? I don’t know but many kids come out of the streets with out any skill coaching and become amazing.

The foundation of athletic movement has occurred for ever without coaching. Children learned movement by need and curiosity, mirroring and involvement, play and competition. The foundation is built to support the activity the child desires to be involved in- they watch, the develop curiosity, they want to do, they mimic/practice, and eventually do. I remember being 6-7 years old and going to the tennis courts with my family. I was never really taught how to swing the racquet but because i wanted to play i watched, mimicked, and learned what worked.

Is the foundation built by us deciding for kids what they need, or is it better developed by kids seeing what they need to do to participate in something they desire. If this is the case, then is performing an athletic/sport skill better approached by us exposing kids to the purpose of the skill and its relevance to being able to play the sport or activity the child so desires? And letting their brains create a connection to how the skill will make them play the game better. Or should we simply be setting a foundation of random, or progressively selected skills that are unattached to the sport or activity. Or do both!

My frequent concern is that we are building athletes skill foundation in sterile environments with pre-recorded patterns versus allowing kids to witness the skill being performed in sport and allowing them to connect the ability to be able to perform the skill will allow them to play with their friends, team, etc….

Teaching skills to athletes is and will always be important, but should the foundation come more from exposure and mimicking then a foundation of re-produced drills that don’t have an intrinsic connection to participation in sport? Probably both- but the percentage is the question…

Train Smart!

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