What method do you use in observation to determine the driver of an aberrant movement?
with Dan Pfaff
In this video, Dan Pfaff discusses some of the operational tools we use at ALTIS when observing athletes and analyzing movement.
“Ask 100 coaches what impresses them the most about Coach Pfaff, and 90 of them will say ‘his eyes – his ability to analyze movement’.
The first time I went to down to visit Dan in Austin in the mid-90s, this is what I was most blown away with – to the point where I was actually skeptical of whether he really was seeing what he was purporting to!
But every time he pointed something out, and sent an athlete to the table, there was a positive result; either the athlete confirmed that – yes, that area was indeed ___. (Fill in the blank – tight, sore, etc.), the therapist (in many cases Dan himself) was able to feel the restriction, and-or the subsequent movements was of better quality.
This was the beginning of this methodology to me: athletes’ training sessions could be improved through a therapeutic input. Therapy was not just for after practice – it was for during practice. Since then, this methodology – and its ultimate manifestation of improving an athlete’s training session, or indeed, saving an athlete’s training session from being cancelled – has been the norm of not only my own coaching practice, but of 100s (perhaps 1000s) of others across the globe.
But this doesn’t work if the coach and-or therapist and athlete doesn’t have a good eye for movement.
My biggest take-away during that first visit – as I have already pointed out elsewhere – is the importance of understanding that health and performance are attached at the hip – they are one and the same, and should be treated as such. There is no line of demarcation between the two. There is no magical point where you move from healthy to unhealthy. They exist on a continuum – and it is our job to keep the athlete as close to the performance end as possible!
To do this, I needed to not only have an objective understanding of what correct mechanics were for the skill I was observing, but also a subjective understanding of how an individual athlete relates to this objective model, and how this varies over time, based on time and circumstance.
Additionally – and most-importantly – I learned that any deviation outside of an athlete’s solution was not necessarily a technical fault, per se, but most-likely was simply a transient aberration based upon their unique set of mechanical constraints.
In short, I needed to get back to work.
Understanding how to observe movement is no easy thing, and this was not an easy process. Dan is really good at it, and as good as I thought he was back in the mid-90s, he is even better now. It takes time – it takes intently watching a lot of people move. I became obsessed with this – obsessed with developing what is now called ‘the coach’s eye’, and to this day cannot walk down the street without analyzing the movement of the person walking in front of me.
Over the course of the last couple of decades, as I myself have become an educator of younger coaches and therapists, myself – as well as Gerry, Dan, Gordon Bosworth and others, have tried to come up with ways in which we can move through this process quicker – developing the coach’s eye in years, rather than decades!
Over 20 years after meeting Dan, I think I’ve got a pretty good eye now. Still not as good as Dan, but better than it was, that’s for sure. I’m still amazed by how quickly Dan can determine the driver of an aberrant movement. It’s pretty easy for me now to identify when a movement strategy is outside of an athlete’s typical bandwidth – i.e when there is a problem – and occasionally, I can figure out the driver of this ‘dysfunctional pattern’ immediately. Usually, however, I have a list of 3 or 4 things that it could be, and we work through them in sequence – each time testing the movement, and checking for difference (what Gerry calls the ‘observe-treat-reobserve process).
It’s a process, and sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes, it takes months to totally unravel the onion to the point where we finally discover the driver. But it’s always worth it in the end.
It’s way more fun for us – and ultimately, more effective for the athlete(s).
And that’s kind of the whole point”