When Rio de Janeiro recently won its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, they had one world famous representative on their Olympic committee that may have actually been more famous than our President Barak Obama. This individual may not be a household name in America, but he is most famous for scoring 2 goals in the 1958 World Cup championships when he was only 17 years old. This made him the youngest player to ever play in these renowned championships and over the course of his distinguished career; the majority of the football world would certainly consider him to be the best soccer player ever. Brazil actually has declared this individual as a national treasure in order to thwart other teams and countries from stealing him away and out of their country. His name is Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, but you may know him simply as -- Pele. So why would this individual be relevant in a paper dedicated to the application of feedback in motor learning as it applies to sports? The answer is that somehow, over the course of his career, Pele was able to successfully apply and translate the concepts of augmented extrinsic feedback and intrinsic sensory information feedback to his objective of playing soccer better than anyone else ever has before him. This made him the Michael Jordan of soccer.
We humans are able to use movement to learn about our world. This means that movement allows us to function, grow and mature, and to maintain normal healthy bodies. Most would think that this ability to move is a normal part of life and in most cases they would be right. To increase specific skills, individuals such as world class athletes must learn to move in even more precise ways than the average man, woman or child which then entails that they move to learn and then they learn more new applications of those original movements. The reason Pele's two goals in 1958 were so spectacular was because he was still a child playing against grown men. Children are more likely to explore their immediate world through movements and then make some mental and physical link between the action and the associated reality they just acquire from that movement. There are obviously scientific studies and distinct principles that bind motor learning principles. For sports some to consider might be:
curricula of physical education programs in schools
the co-curricular sport programs the pedagogical principles taught by physical education teachers or coaches clinical interventions by occupational or physical therapists
Pele was somehow able to incorporate these principles into his own ability to play what he called 'the beautiful game.' In other words, Pele and other athletes that understand and apply the underlying philosophies of a child's ability to acquire motor skills such as building with blocks, developing skills for sports or leisure, writing, drawing or just simply moving through their world will be better at playing the game of soccer, or basketball or any other learning experience. For example, Pele played his game on a rectangular field with goals at either end and he had to interact with the two teams of 11 players all trying to kick a single ball into an opposing goal.
The skills required to do this entail being exceptional at specific movements in accordance with the rules of the game such as running, kicking or heading the ball and thinking in a proper way at precise point of a game. Consider that it is alright to use any other body part other than the arms and hands to play soccer. But, children who play for the first time, often instinctively reach out to grab the ball with their hands because this is a normal motor skill reaction for the human body even though only a goalie may touch or move the ball with his or her arms and hands in soccer.
Feedback is a major part of the motor learning process. Feedback is the process in which humans regulate themselves by monitoring their own output. In other words, the human body feeds back a portion of its output data to itself. A good example of the human feedback process is the automatic pilot systems that are used in most, if not all, commercial jets. In most cases, other than the two pilots who recently missed their destination in Minnesota, the autopilot process provides a computer that is technically flying a plane through constant feedback about required information regarding the planes speed, altitude, direction and so on.
Every time the plane veers off course slightly, the computer receives that information and then makes minor directional adjustments to make sure that the plane is still heading in the most efficient direction to the final destination. Feedback can be used to control other machines such as heaters, air conditioners, microwave ovens and so on. Just like these machines, for a highly tuned athlete like Pele, feedback was used by his brain to control the various muscles and joints, blood flow, oxygen intake and to control all other voluntary and involuntary bodily functions in order to allow him to move more efficiently than any other soccer player. Externally, Pele also used and applied the millions of bits of data feedback from coaches, fans, and his own natural instincts to respond and therefore produce a needed or wanted result of the process of playing soccer. His movements were modulated, controlled, and altered through the process of feedback.
Applying Feedback to Motor Skills
Understanding and applying feedback concepts to one's motor skills, or defining how and individual such as Pele could learn his unique set of motor skills through the dynamic of motor learning, requires a deeper understanding of: motor development, motor control, sport psychology, and pedagogy for physical education. A quick look into these factors would define them as how the aptitude of a child can create motor skills that naturally mature, how the neurological parts of the body control movement, how an individual such as Pele is motivated with a desire to keep increasing and learning new motor skills that pertain to sports or exercise and how the overall learning environment can best be arranged to produce an atmosphere that is conducive to acquiring specific motor skills.
Motor learning can be considered to be the process of providing feedback through systems that focus on ways to be more effective and to best facilitate one's ability to acquire required new skills. Research into the field of motor learning has more than a century of applied research behind it especially in the areas of physical education as well as psychology. Consider that Robert Woodworth was already examining conditions affecting the accuracy of movement as early as 1899.
More recently, two new fundamental models were introduced that best describe the ability to acquire motor skills. These newer models also addressed learning deficits and challenges that new learners may need to address. This work, called the information-processing focus, has been the brainchild of renowned researchers James Adams, Steven Keele and Richard Schmidt. Other models or philosophies exist such as the 'self-organization' approach to motor learning where the athlete or regular person for that matter was more or less a function of specific controlled parameters and external environmental conditions that altered learning, and these ideas were presented around the early 1990's.
Research in the field of motor learning mainly tries to focus on getting a better understanding of how an individual like Pele did what he did. Consider that in 1970, he scored Brazil's 100th World Cup goal with a header that is still on highlight films around the world today. How was he able to acquire and perform these unique motor skills at such a consistently high level of proficiency? Pele could serve as an excellent example of what a professional athlete is required to do in regard to learning motor skills to become the best ever. Researchers could go over his practice routines with a fine tooth comb to see why he excelled when so many others did not. There is a story that his first soccer ball when he was just 3 years old was nothing more than a set of rolled up holey socks because his family was so poor that they could not afford to buy him a real soccer ball.
Pele would also serve as an excellent subject in the field of motor learning study for the professionals in the fields of physical education, occupation therapy, sports medicine, and physical therapy. Consider that in order to reach that 100th goal, Pele had to be in excellent physical condition to even be on the field of play. This is exactly where occupation therapy, sports medicine, and physical therapy need to understand why his body was able to move for so many years in the same sense as a finely tuned automobile. But like that car, he was mostly injury free and needed infrequent checkups and tune ups.