The following post was inspired by an article published in the August 2011 edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning titled "A Task-Based Approach to Developing Context Specific Agility". The article written by Ian Jeffrey's encourages coaches to program reactive agility exercises versus traditional closed circuit exercises. The differences between reactive and closed circuit drills shines light on subtle ways coaches can implement sport psychology interventions into their practices.
Jeffrey's argues that traditional agility training (think shuttle runs) teach athletes how to become better at a particular task, reducing transfer-ability to game situations. These closed drills omit the cognitive and perceptual influences that control in the moment decision making and reaction time.
Proper sport psychology interventions should progress mental skills through targeted application. Therefore any drill looking to enhance agility, decision making, or response time, whether athletic or tactical should be centered on maximizing performance by using effective movement as and when required.
Jeffreys suggests using a constraints-based model of reactive agility that includes physical, perceptual, cognitive, motor control, environmental and tasks constraints to build a better blueprint. Leaving aside physical and motor control let's look more deeply into the other four by broadening our focus of mental agility.
Perceptual and cognitive constraints are closely related but do have their differences. Perceptual constraints relate to one's ability to control his or her gaze and focus on the key factors that will trigger and control the subsequent movement requirements. Cognitive constraints include recognition of movement patterns, the anticipation of forthcoming events, and the to focus and concentrate on critical elements contributing to performance. Experience and more importantly designed exposure to these elements improves performance in these areas.
A 2012 study published in the journal Human Movement Science compared gaze control, decision making, and shooting performance of elite and rookie police officers as they faced a potentially lethal encounter that use of a handgun or inhibition of a shot is a cell phone was drawn. The authors of the study Vickers and Lewinski concluded:
that the significant differences in accuracy and decision making observed between the elite and rookie officers were due as much, if not more, to deficits in eye control and focus of attention of the rookies as to any limitations in their physical ability to handle a firearm.
Vickers and Lewinski suggest a shift in the instruction of rookie officers. Typical training methodology suggests training rookie officers to fixate the sights on their own weapon first and the target second. To improve applicability to high stress situations the authors suggest establishing a a line gaze on the target from the outset followed by alignment of the sights of the weapon to the line gaze. They also suggest that officers' would benefit from training in conditions when pressure and anxiety are high to reduce incidences of choking and enhance decision making under stress.
Environmental constraints refers to the characteristics of the playing surface, playing area, and weather for athletes and terrain, location, and weather for tactical purposes. The goal is for performers to look at environmental constraints with the attitude "It is, what it is". Weather will have an impact on performance outcomes, but the goal for the performer is to control the controllable. A study published in the Journal of Sport and Human Performance noted significant differences in per mile times and mood state for Soldiers participating in a competitive road march in moderate winter weather versus the hot summer weather at Fort Benning in Georgia. This offers a great example of environmental constraints. The summer produced reduced times and more negative mood date, just as you would expect lower passing totals from a quarterback in windy conditions, however, the weather was a hardship faced by all who were rucking. There are many environmental factors we can not control in a performance but the important thing to remember is you have full control of your response. Your response primarily revolves around action and thought. A simple way for coaches to address this is to prepare their athletes for the environment they will be playing in such as in-climate weather or crowd noise.
The last constraint is task constraints which is the specificity of including aim of task, rules of the task, and equipment. When preparing an infantry company for their Expert Infantryman Badge testing it would be prudent to incorporate the actual tasks, equipment, and rules into a high pressure practice. A previous post pointed out the example of former NBA basketball Steve Kerr and how his performance was improved by more strategic practice.
Sometimes drills are chosen due to comfort level or familiarity, but coaches and trainers should always to be looking to produce maximum carry over.