As with many sports, in skeleton we spend as much as two hours a day watching video in addition to all the other things one has to do in terms of preparation and training (not to mention eating and sleeping). It’s easy to think to yourself, “hey I’ve done two hours of homework here, my preparation is done.” The concern is that the athletes take a run down the track, watch a video from an external perspective and think of how they’ll then make the video better the next time rather than the skill itself. In other words you need to translate the video to an internal perspective. You need to imagine what it looks and feels like as if you were actually doing it.
I realize this may sound a bit specific to skeleton but I believe the same concept applies to all sports (and dance – refer to comments from part 1 of this article). The concern is, with so much video analysis (an external perspective), the athletes will fall short in terms of putting it back into an internal perspective and obviously this is the only vantage point from which an athlete can perform a skill.
An athlete’s success or failure with regard to a technical skill, is based to some extent on sight but in skeleton when you have five G’s preventing you from looking where you need to go, feel for the ice and body-awareness become even more critical. It can also be more subtle than that. For example, does the sled skid underneath you almost unnoticeably as you enter or exit a corner? In the highest G-force situations is the sled turning and therefore grinding the ice underneath it or is the sled going parallel through the pressure? Can you feel the pressure drop a very slight amount in the middle of a corner thereby telling you exactly where you are and making it possible to time the exit perfectly? These are all questions that the best will be able to answer because they’re aware of what they’re feeling and can react to it as it happens.
The athletes I coach are probably tired of me saying it, but my catch phrase is, “there shouldn’t be anything that a video or a time sheet can tell you that you didn’t already know [by feel].” This is admittedly an exaggeration, and I would never insinuate that video analysis is not a very valuable tool – it truly is. But it has to be used in the context of gaining a better internal understanding of what’s going on in the performing of a skill as it happens.
With respect to other sports the same physical rules apply. It may seem like a fine point but athletes need to feel why a change in hip angle leads to an increased efficiency in a skating stride – it’s not for the purpose of making the video look better. Sprinters spend a lot of time looking at the angle of the torso because it affects the range of motion and therefore the strength of certain muscles integral to generating speed, not the least of which are the hip flexors. If an athlete simply arches the back to change the angle of the torso it misses the mark, but to an untrained eye the issue may appear to be solved on video.
I’ve actually come across a few examples recently of what I would call poor self-awareness in very elite athletes; a swimmer who couldn’t say whether he was breathing in or out or holding his breath when waiting for the gun to go off; a skeleton athlete that didn’t realize that by doing certain nervous system priming drills within two minutes of a sprint could actually knock up to five hundredths of a second off a 30 meter time. It becomes really difficult to replicate great performances if you don’t know exactly how they happened.
“There shouldn’t be anything that a video or a time sheet can tell you that you didn’t already know [by feel].”
There are occasionally athletes that have poor self-awareness who are still successful because they have a coach that is so in tune with them that they are able to make all the correct decisions on the athlete’s behalf. The athlete does exactly what they’re told, when they’re told, and essentially the awareness becomes the coach’s role. This can work but the chances of success are decreased. Certainly over years of working together, a coach is going to develop a really good understanding of an athlete’s idiosyncrasies and what they need from them and when, but ideally a coach’s input will only ever be supporting what the athlete already knows for themselves. Olympic champions like Beckie Scott and Catriona LeMay-Doan have both been referred to as athletes who were extremely self-aware.