The Role of General Motor Ability and Agility in Sport Performance

Liefeith, Andreas Karl (2019) The Role of General Motor Ability and Agility in Sport Performance. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The concept and assessment of general motor ability (GMA) has declined in favour of specialisation and training specificity in athlete development (AD). Early specialisation and a focus on specificity have increased the physical and psychological loading on athletes entering formal development structures or programmes. As a consequence, the use of generic movement training and the use of GMA has significantly decreased. It is suggested that this may be creating athletes who are less adaptable and resilient, with regards to learning new motor skills, transferring skills, and potentially being more prone to injury.
Accordingly, the role of general motor ability in sports performance remains unclear, and there is a lack of research which examines its' potential in facilitating improvement in performance. Alongside the diminished role of GMA, there is obfuscation on the role agility plays in AD. The concept of agility is currently constrained by an overly simplistic interpretation that limits it to reactive directional changes. Developing a novel construct of agility, where it can offer both generic and specific qualities, may support the operationalisation of GMA in contemporary AD programmes. In doing so, this may also help to balance the impact of early specialisation and training specificity. Founded on this rationale the objectives of this thesis were as follows:
1. To provide an overview of GMA and agility, including a reinterpretation of the agility construct.
2. To establish the importance of GMA in AD by examining the association between GMA, physical attributes and technical playing attributes in youth RL players.
3. To explore the mechanisms which may underpin GMA.
4. To investigate the development of GMA and explore the nature of longitudinal changes in GMA between youth RL players and youth school children.
5. To explore the role of GMA in acute skill transfer and describe its role in facilitating athlete resilience and adaptability in motor skill learning.
Addressing the first objective Chapter Two provides a critical overview of GMA and agility in sports performance and AD; specifically reviewing the conceptualisation of GMA and presenting a reinterpretation of the agility construct. The second and third objectives were met using the context of Rugby League (RL). The correlational study in Chapter Three used 33 junior RL players to establish the importance of GMA, concerning the positive relationship with physical and technical playing attributes. In Chapter Four, correlational and predictive analysis on tests of GMA, generic and specific agility on 107 junior RL players were used to explore the mechanisms which may underpin GMA. Importantly, GMA had excellent predictive abilities on the performance of generic and specific agility movements. The results of an analysis of specific kinematic variables of preplanned and reactive change of direction (CoD) tasks suggested movement variability was important in these CoD tasks. Objective four was achieved by employing a quasi-experimental design, 36 youths drawn from two groups were pre and post tested on measures of GMA, generic and specific agility to assess the impact of a generic agility intervention and a physical education (PE) curriculum. GMA is not static; training status and varied practice influence its level. In addressing the final objective, Chapter Six used multilevel modelling to examine the clustering of data on six repeated trials on a novel task in high and low GMA groups. Thirty eight students were assessed for GMA and the evolution of their novel task performance. Better GMA performers were able to outperform participants with low GMA on the novel task; findings being indicative of better skill transfer. In conclusion, the five studies aimed to provide a significant contribution to the scientific knowledge. GMA, operationalised through generic agility, does relate to sport-specific performance.
Better GMA relates to enhanced performance on a complex and novel CoD task. While GMA is in a state of flux and can be improved by various types of physical activity (PA). Further research into the specific nature of generic agility training, for performance and health, to help sustain motor competence and reduce injury is recommended.

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