Movement virtuosity concept in elite athletic training process



Dr.Hab., Professor L.D. Nazarenko
PhD, Associate Professor N.A. Kasatkina
Ulyanovsk State Pedagogical University named after I.N. Ulyanov, Ulyanovsk

Keywords: elite sports, movement coordination abilities, virtuosity, structured content.

Introduction. The history of elite sports has seen a few technologies geared to improve the movement coordination abilities in athletes, but the attempts to rate their practical benefits have always been challenging for a variety of reasons including the competitive performance instability in elite sports due to both the external (team composition, competitive environment, climatic/ weather conditions etc.) and internal (high mental and physical stresses, high pressure of expectations from the team, coaches and the national audience; failure to reach maximal fitness by the event time etc.) factors; and this is the reason why the issue of movement coordination abilities improvement training is believed to deserve further studies.

It is quite typical for many modern sports that the motor skills complication process is unevenly balanced over time in the training systems and highly demanding as to the coordination skills and abilities. At the basic athletic skills mastering stage of the training process, the athlete solves this problem by his own muscular potential being employed on a more efficient basis. As soon as the certain athletic fitness level is attained and certain individual training and competitive experience is accumulated, the athlete reaches new body functioning standards that enable him to master a variety of complex and once inaccessible motor skills and the new ways to tackle and perform them. Working muscles operate within certain degrees of freedom, and it is the reasonable control of these freedoms in the attempt to improve the movement efficiency that, in opinion of N.A. Bernstein (1947) comprises the essence of movement coordination skills.

Technically challenging movement sequences in sport require the relevant muscular strength, speed, endurance, agility rates and other movement coordination abilities and skills being developed in the athlete. In stressful competitive situations, athletes have to face high nervous and muscular strains that often go beyond the individually balanced competitive performance limits that may result in the performance sagging effects. This is the reason why the movement tasks will be designed to grow in complexity over the training process to mobilize the relevant responses of the body to the training and competitive loads and mobilize and improve the movement coordination capabilities.

Studies of the available theoretical and practical literature on the subject (V.I. Lyakh, 2000; V.B. Korenberg, 1998; I.M. Turevskiy, 1998; I.S. Kolesnik, 2010; M.B. Abul’khanova, 2011, et al.) and our own studies [9-12] demonstrate that high competitive progress is always due to a variety of motor skills and abilities that cannot be limited by the movement coordination abilities as such – and the structure and content of the variety need to be studied on a more comprehensive basis. It is a matter of common knowledge that competitive success in different sports requires from the athlete to be physically fit as tested by a variety of fitness rates. Leading sport specialists including V.K. Bal’sevich, 2000; V.B. Korenberg, 1996; I.M. Turevskiy, 1998; and V.I. Lyakh, 2000 – tend to believe that the commonly used qualitative aspects of motor activity are not representative enough of its real complexity and structure. V.B. Korenberg, 1996, for instance, offers to apply such skills as briskness and reactivity; whilst I.M. Turevskiy, 1998, recommends broader use of such categories of agility as hand musculoskeletal and mixed ones.

It is one of the key conditions for a good competitive progress that the athlete’s nervous and muscular responses must be highly differentiated and precise; and the relevant skills may be developed by unexpected motor tasks being increased in numbers and intensity levels to ensure growing performance efficiency of complicated motor skills in extreme competitive environments, with the relevant intellectual and volitional abilities being mobilized and developed. It is through the highest movement coordination skills and precise movement control within the relevant space- and strength-specific rates with no visible excessive muscular efforts that the technical excellence of performed movement sequences is attained by; and the highest degrees of excellence may be even referred to as virtuosity.

This term is widely applicable not only in sports, but in characterizing the highest performance standards in music, chess, ballet etc. Virtuosity may manifest itself in many technically challenging elements when the beauty of movements is underlined by the elegance of gestures, postures, high originality and perfection in every movement – that is characteristic of the highest creativity standards achieved by the athlete. B. Low, 1994, defines virtuosity in gymnastics as the combination of technical skill performance elegance, freedom, amplitudes and aerial heights in the movement sequences.

Objective of the study was to spell out provisions for the virtuosity concept with virtuosity being viewed as one of the qualitative characteristics of motor skills performance process.

Methods and structure of the study. To check efficiency of the virtuosity concept as one of the promising contributors to the competitive progress of elite female athletes engaged in competitive aerobics, we performed an educational experiment. Subject to the experiment were 24 female gymnasts (qualified Candidates for Master of Sport and Masters of Sport) aged 17-20. The subjects were equally split up into Study Group (SG) and Reference Group (RG) of 12 people each. The athletes were tested prior to the educational experiment to rate their initial technical skills using the following tests:

Test 1 was designed as a series of technically challenging round-off and straddle jumps assessed by the following criteria: jump line clearness rate; rated body parts/ segment positioning in the top aerial points; rated aesthetics and expressiveness of the jump lines.

Test 2 was designed to rate the sequence of vertical jump with a 360° turn landing in split, turn to front support, and squat double circle. The movement sequence performance was rated by the following criteria: aerial-phase rotation speed rate; body spatial position accuracy rate; splits expressiveness rate; and rated synchrony of performance of squat double circle.

Test 3 included a kosak jump (with legs horizontal and one knee bent), a few base steps, and a 720° spin on one foot. Subject to rating in the movement sequence were the dynamicity of every element in the sequence; amplitudes; movement ease and freedom; and static and dynamic postures. 

The athletes’ performance of the above test sequences was rated by an expert team of 5 leading competitive aerobics coaches. Training process in RG was designed as required by the commonly accepted elite gymnast training technique. Applied in the SG training process was our own movement virtuosity developing technique tailored to the individual phenotypic traits of the athletes. The technique assumed strict educational conditions being created with zero tolerance to deviations from the ideal performance technique in every element of the movement sequence. Objectives of the technique were attained by the individual/ collective/ efficient rhythms of the jumping, spinning and other motor skills being permanently controlled and corrected in the process; and the muscular action distribution/ redistribution skills mastering and perfection process. Special attention was given to the body parts/ segments aerial positioning in every phase of the motor action performed. The paces, dancing/ base steps, movement amplitudes, leg/ arm movement harmonizing patterns were duly individualized for every gymnast.

Study results and discussion. The ongoing rotation of the world sport leaders is indicative, on the one hand, of the natural difficulties in the modern sport training process and the need for efficient competitive performance forecasts with regard to the actual skills and abilities of the athletes; and, on the other hand – of many problems waiting for solutions and related to the modern sport qualification process, training/ competitive performance management efficiency; intellectual/ creative/ volitional potential assessment and mobilization methods; the body adaptive capability to the training workloads etc.

Content and priorities of any sport training system are generally determined by its objectives and goals. When the system objective is to help an athlete qualify for the first team of a sport club, the coach will design the model athletic training system to attain the relevant performance quality rates of the subject motor skills and ensure the relevant technical, tactical, mental and theoretical skills standards being achieved to help the athlete qualify for the first team. It is the shortage of conceptual tools and/or intellectual limitations of specific athletes that may set certain barriers for the individual competitive progress, albeit these limitations shall in no case be applicable to other athletes. The focus on the certain sport excellence being developed within some timeframe tends to largely modify the content of the training process – for the reason that it gives the top priority to the personality-centred approach based on the following principles:

  • Individuality principle that implies phenotypic traits, personal adaptive capabilities and other body specifics being taken into account;
  • Subjectivity principle that implies the personal training/ competitive performance experience being accumulated and digested by the athlete;
  • Self-assertion principle centred on the preset objective attaining through the latent individual abilities and endowements being mobilized; and
  • Success-focusing principle focused on the facilitating educational conditions created to help the athlete develop high self-confidence and readiness to attain objectives of the training process.

It should be noted that no technical virtuosity may be attained in performing some movement sequences or elements unless the athlete perfectly masters the subject technique and, therefore, the training system will be designed based on the totally different concept that gives a top priority to the motor skill mastering procedures designed with zero tolerance to erroneous motor actions that otherwise may become habitual. The new system implies a strict educational control of every technical element being exercised from the very first training session. The process will be focused on the most efficient techniques to ensure the mastered motor skills being well harmonized with the natural laws of physics, biomechanics and aesthetics. Even a slightest deviation from the most efficient model of the performed technique may be damaging for the movement pace, rhythms and optimal body parts/ segments spatial positioning. It should be noted that the right technique mastering success shall not be considered a final goal by the trainee as the mastered motor skill needs to be excelled and kept up at every training session otherwise the natural motor habits may prevail.

Technical virtuosity in a complex movement sequence performance process manifests itself in every move being perfect i.e. demonstrating precise balancing of the active muscle groups, body parts and segments; in fine and perfect differentiations of elements in the movement sequence; and the new functional level being attained by the athlete’s body. Furthermore, virtuosity implies the intellectual and motor performance being harmonized and clearly visible in the movement amplitudes and high ease and freedom; and it enables the athlete even to go beyond the attained competitive fitness limitations dictated by his morphological/ functional states.
Virtuosity will be viewed as a motor skill rating parameter indicative of a perfect technique of the comprehensively coordinated motor skills/ elements being mastered to notably increase the aesthetic expressivity of the performance. This parameter, however, is quite specific in the sense that permanent diagnostics of the physical/ technical fitness rates is required to efficiently control muscle mass, speed, endurance variation rates forming a basis for the performance excelling – and virtuosity attaining – process as spelled out by the structured content of the latter (see Diagram 1 hereunder).

Diagram 1. Structured contents of virtuosity

Upon completion of the educational experiments, both of the groups were tested to obtain the technical and artistic fitness variation data. Analysis of the resultant data demonstrates some progress achieved by both of the groups, albeit the SG performance rates were found notably better. The RG Test 1 performance rates, for instance, were found to rise to 4.13±0.18 points (p>0.05) as compared to the RG starting level of 4.05±0.16 points; whilst the SG Test 1 performance rates grew to as much as 4.73±0.21 points (p<0.05) versus the SG starting level of 4.01±0.17 points. The same trend of the SG being notably better in the test performance as a result of the experiment was found in the other tests too.

Conclusions. The educational experiment demonstrated that the performance excellence-focused mindset of the female athletes in the technically challenging motor skills mastering and excelling process tends to mobilize the movement coordination reserves of the body and allows step up the quality to their athletic performance process.

The movement virtuosity-focused mindset was found to help expand the commonly accepted attitude to the complex and super-complex motor skills mastering and performance process; and appreciate the role of agility, accuracy, flexibility, plasticity and other relevant interrelated and synergized abilities in the movement control patterns, the new approach and concept being an important condition for the performance mastery and culture being virtuous.


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Analysis of the available sport literature shows that leading sport specialists tend to differ on the issue of the movement coordination-focused training in the sport skills excelling process. The study data presented herein demonstrates that it is the movement coordination abilities improvement training that will be rated high among the key conditions for the competitive progress of elite athletes being put on a stable and sound basis. The article considers the issue of how the competitive progress of elite athletes may be improved via focused training to excel the measurable coordination abilities. It offers a new concept of the practical meanings and content of excellence (or virtuosity) basically viewed as one of the movement ability characteristics that refers to the main components, manifestations and types of motor activity; the factors of influence on such manifestations; and the relevant qualitative and quantitative assessment criteria. Results of the educational experiment reported by the study demonstrate that the movement excellence-focused training of women athletes is beneficial for their mastery and competitive progress.