Influence of Perceptual-Cognitive Function on Movement Output

by Developing Agility and Quickness, Second Edition
Kinetic Select August 2020


This article briefly describes the importance of training perceptual-cognitive skills for faster performance.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Developing Agility and Quickness, Second Edition, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Agility is a context-specific movement requiring athletes to sequence necessary muscle actions, adopt an appropriate body position, and systematically coordinate force and impulse in order to produce a fast performance that matches the most appropriate movement solution in response to a given situation (12, 25). As a result, movement produced in competition may not reflect optimal technique; rather it reflects the ability of an athlete to successfully control and coordinate movement in response to various task and environmental constraints to produce a faster performance.

The greater the perceptual–cognitive skill athletes have to identify relevant cues earlier in stimulus presentation the more they are able to adopt a more appropriate body position to execute movements at a faster pace. Possessing a faster processing speed during agility tasks can result in muscle pre-activation, which has been shown to protect against injury and increase subsequent movement execution (27, 32). Increasing preparatory muscle activation through a faster reaction time can increase rate of force development and muscular stiffness during the early phase of movement, enabling more force to be applied throughout the movement (27). Greater force production during both the braking and the propulsive phase of agility movements has been observed when athletes produce a faster decision-making time, resulting in a faster agility performance (26). Further, a faster initial reaction to the stimulus allows athletes to enter a lower, more advantageous body position to better direct force throughout the movement (32). In contrast, a subsequent delay in processing speed, resulting in a longer decision-making time, has been associated with decreased neuromuscular control as a result of insufficient time for the central nervous system to implement appropriate postural adjustment strategies, compromising performance outcomes (27).

Coaches should consider this information when developing agility and quickness training programs. Implementing random practice conditions where the individual skills or movements are executed in a random order requires athletes to continuously modify their biomechanics to develop a coordinated and adaptive movement. Varying the speed and distance available to execute drills manipulates the constraints of the task, thus altering the physical and technical requirements of the drill. The overall goal of training should not be movement perfection; rather it should be to provide athletes with the opportunity to develop an adaptable movement solution to a wide variety of movement problems. This allows athletes to produce the optimal movement output when responding to various stimuli in competition.

In Developing Agility and Quickness, Second Edition, leading experts from the NSCA offer more than 130 drills, 12 agility and quickness tests, and 15 sport-specific training plans to help athletes gain a step on the competition. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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