athletic motor skill competencies fundamental in allowing athletes to compete
at the highest level? Or are athletes able to perform in their relative sports
without fully developing these competencies? The Athletic Motor Skill
Competencies are suggested to reduce the risk of early sports specialisation in
young athletes, decreasing the risk of injury and musculoskeletal pain, demonstrated
by the youth physical development model (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012).  The AMSC’s are primarily used to assess the
abilities and potential deficiencies in young people and movements include a squat,
lunge, push, pull, hinge, brace and rotation (Tompsett, Burkett & McKean,
2014). I aim to address the perceived value of these AMSC’s and their impact on
injury prevention and athlete performance. Ultimately, specificity of training
is essential as it allows individuals to select exercises to replicate the
movement patterns required for their sport during their strength and
conditioning sessions (Cissik, 2012). Every sport has specific demands; however,
many sports share generic demands such as locomotion and this is the basis of
the AMSC’s; they are fundamental in the development of a wide range of sports.

Bilateral loading is arguably one of the most widely used athletic
motor skills. Movements such as the squat enhance both strength and hypertrophy
of the lower body as well as improving the lower body’s functional performance. (Schoenfeld,
2010). It is also used as a valid and reliable measure of trunk and lower body
strength and is essential in increasing the maximal strength of the lower extremities
(Glassbrook et al., 2017).  Bilateral
loading is further valuable for rehabilitation purposes to strengthen the
muscles of the lower limbs and connective tissues after a joint-related injury
(Dahlkvist, Mayo & Seedhom, 1982). However, Klein’s (1961) research into knee
flexion angles performed during a squat demonstrated increased laxity within
the collateral and cruciate ligament, resulting in reduced knee stability. Subsequent
researchers have replicated the study and found no significant differences
between individuals who perform a deep squat as opposed to the half squat (Meyers,
1971).  Variations of the squat can also
be performed to assist in the removal of errors or to alleviate stress to
particular joints, primarily those joints of the upper extremity during bar
loaded squat movements, such as a front squat (Waller & Townsend, 2007). The
squat is also beneficial as a whole-body strength exercise as significant
isometric activity is required by a range of supporting muscles, including the
abdominals, erector spinae and trapezius to facilitate postural stabilisation
of the trunk (Schoenfeld, 2010) in both the squat and hinge movements.
Therefore, in performing a squat or hinge, the athlete is concurrently developing
a range of muscles essential for sporting performance.

Unilateral loading is typically used as a variation
to bilateral loading. However, there is a lack of scientific data to determine
the potential of these exercises to improve strength and power (McCurdy et al.,
2005). To improve athletic performance, resistance exercises should closely
resemble the mechanics and forces required to perform the necessary skills in a
specified sport (McCurdy et al., 2005). Therefore, in sports where the use of
one leg is essential, such as Taekwondo, unilateral training would be
beneficial to effectively replicate the demands of the sport. A study performed
by Negrete and Brophy (2000) found a correlation between isokinetic single leg
squat strength and single-leg vertical jump height. This indicates that by
developing the unilateral squat strength of an athlete, you can increase their
vertical jump height; essential for athletes such as high jumpers. Furthermore,
during a single-leg squat the lateral sub-system becomes engaged and trained;
creating stability (Henry, 2011) which is essential for the prevention of
injury. Greater demands are also placed upon the muscles of the lower
extremities without loading the spine, thus, allowing athletes to train with a
reduced risk of spinal injury (Boyle, 2009).

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Anti-core rotation and bracing are essential to
prevent spinal injuries such as those sustained through repeated spinal flexion
under load, from flexion to extension (McGill, 2002). Specifically, this is
essential for athletes such as rugby players in the prevention of spinal
injuries during a scrum as well as more broadly to all athletes who perform a
loaded squat. In addition to this, an increase in intra-abdominal pressure
reduces lumbar compression forces. However, the stability of the spine is not improved
by the increased activity of the transversus abdominis; it is stabilised by the
direction-specific co-operation of both global and local muscles (Wirth et al.,
2017).  This core stability is essential
for both athletic performance and injury prevention (Hodges & Richardson,
1996). Furthermore, the core has been documented to have assisted hip function
for athletes competing in strongman competitions, where athletes were able to
accomplish tasks without the required hip strength (McGill, McDermott & Fenwick,
2009). This study suggests that strength is able to radiate out peripherally to
other regions of the body from a strong core (McGill, 2010) and thus, the
adaptations achieved through training of the core can enable further
adaptations within the body.

Jumping, bounding and rebound mechanics can be used
to develop the force potentiating capabilities of the stretch-shortening cycle
and improve athletic performance (Komi, 2003). During plyometric activity, the
muscle is stretched immediately before contraction. This combination of both
eccentric and concentric contractions allows a more powerful muscle response
than concentric contractions alone (Komi, 1992). When integrated into a
strength and conditioning programme, plyometric training has been shown to
increase the power output of athletes (Luebbers et al., 2003). Cronin and
Hansen (2005) suggested that the most effective method of improving speed is
through countermovement and loaded squat training – combining plyometric
training and improving an athlete’s power to weight ratio. Furthermore, there are
moderate to high correlations between horizontal and vertical drop jumps and
sprint times (Schuster & Jones, 2016). Therefore, jumping, bounding and
rebounding mechanics are essential for athletes in sports where speed and power
are fundamental. Plyometric training can also be used during rehabilitation post
ACL reconstruction, as it can induce positive changes in knee function and
impairments to aid an athlete’s return to sports competition (Chmielewski et
al., 2016).

Acceleration, deceleration and reacceleration are
composed of change of direction speed (Young, James & Montgomery, 2002) alongside
agility, which is defined as a rapid whole-body movement with change of speed
or direction in response to a stimulus (Sheppard & Young, 2006). Agility
training results in significant improvements to change of direction, but no
significant improvement in straight sprint performance. (Young, McDowell &
Scarlett, 2001). Acceleration, maximum speed and agility should be considered
as specific qualities that are unrelated to each other. Therefore, specific
testing and training procedures for each component should be considered when
working with elite athletes (Little & Williams, 2005). This highlights the
need for specificity within agility training, so that the sport-specific
movement patterns of an athlete’s sport can be replicated both in training and
during competition. For example, a rugby player may initiate a change of
direction to pursue or evade an opponent, therefore agility training would be
more beneficial than straight sprinting (Young, McDowell & Scarlett, 2001).
Sport-specific agility training can be used to prevent injuries, particularly
when used in conjunction with stretching, strengthening and plyometric training
and over a two-year period can reduce the occurrence of injury up to 88%
(Mandelbaum et al., 2005). This is particularly useful for females in sports
that involve rapid stopping, cutting and changing direction, as they are more
likely to tear their anterior cruciate ligaments than males (Ireland, 2002).

Upper body pushing is often included in a strength
and conditioning programme as a bench press or press-up exercise. The bench
press and press-up are multi-joint exercises and can be used to analyse the
muscular strength, power and muscular endurance of the upper body (Stevens,
2015). Press-ups can be used to increase muscular strength and endurance, in
addition to increasing muscle hypertrophy. In order to achieve greater strength
gains in junior team sport athletes, bench press training that leads to
repetition failure is more effective than non-failure bench press exercises
(Drinkwater et al., 2005). To enhance upper body strength and endurance in
untrained children, higher repetition training protocols should be used during
the initial adaptation period (Faigenbaum et al., 2001). It is suggested that plyometric
upper-body training programmes are more effective than dynamic upper-body
training programmes (Vossen et al., 2000) in improving upper body power and
strength.  Furthermore, an isokinetic
programme produces significant improvements in isokinetic power compared to a
plyometric programme, which produced no significant improvements. However, the
same study suggested that individuals performing plyometric weighted ball
throws improved significantly more than the isokinetic group; highlighting the
importance of sport specificity in upper body pushing (Heidescheit et al.,

To improve sports performance and reduce the risk of
injury, balances in strength should exist for opposing muscle groups (Baker
& Newton, 2004). Therefore, upper body pulling and pushing should both be
carried out to develop the antagonistic muscle pairs of the upper extremity;
creating joint stability. An example of upper body pulling is the pull-up,
which is widely used by athletes as a means of promoting strength. However,
there is a lack of evidence to suggest that pull-ups demonstrate muscle activation
(Vanderburgh & Flanagan, 2000). In comparison to upper-body pushing, the
musculature for upper body pulling is 1.5-2.7 times lower. This indicates that
greater strength is often displayed during pushing and further highlights the
need to develop upper body pulling in athletes in order to maximise upper body
strength (Negrete et al., 2013). This could be particularly useful for athletes
such as rowers, who require excellent upper body strength.

Fundamental movement skills consist of locomotor
skills that propel a human body through space, such as running, jumping and
hopping as well as object control skills such as throwing, catching and kicking
(Cliff et al., 2009). Deficiency in fundamental movement skills is often
attributed to inactivity (Hardy et al., 2013) and can lead to a weight-gain
cycle amongst individuals, resulting in obesity (Stodden, Goodway & Langendorfer
2008). The six-stage model of late specialization sports identifies the first
stage of learning as “The FUNdamental Stage”. During this stage, the objective
is for six to nine-year-olds to learn all fundamental movement skills to
prepare them for future physical activity, whether at grassroots or elite
level, in a range of sports (Balyi, 2003). Fundamental movement skills are the
basis of all sports and to identify athletes’ strengths, or weaknesses, a
pre-screening process should be undertaken (Cook, Burton & Hoogenboom,
2006). This will help to identify areas which can be improved through strength
and conditioning and thus improve their functional movement in their chosen
sport. This could also identify any potential causes of injury, increasing the
longevity of an athlete’s career by strengthening the athlete’s weaknesses.

To conclude, it is essential that athletes undertake
training in all areas of the athletic motor skill competencies in order to
reduce musculoskeletal pain and injury (Lloyd & Oliver, 2012) as well as
preparing athletes for future participation (Balyi, 2003). Furthermore, by
developing all of the AMSC’s, the athlete can increase their proficiency in a
number of areas such as strength and hypertrophy of the lower body
(Schoenfield, 2010) and upper body (Stevens, 2015) as well as improving power (Luebbers
et al., 2003), developing muscle balance (Baker & Newton, 2004) and
improving core stability (Wirth et al., 2017). By becoming more proficient in
all areas of the AMSC’s the athlete can reduce their risk of injury through
pre-screening (Cook, Burton & Hoogenboom, 2016) as well as improving
strength (Dahlkvist, Mayo & Seedhom, 1982),
reducing spinal loading (Boyle, 2009), promoting joint stability (Henry, 2011) and agility
(Mandelbaum et al., 2005). Post-injury, the AMSC’s can also assist in
rehabilitation of joints, such as the ACL in the knee; a common injury amongst
all athletes (Chmielewski et al., 2016). Therefore, the AMSC’s are essential in
producing physically strong athletes with a low risk of injury, who are then
able to apply these skills to their chosen sport; highlighting the importance
of the AMSC’s in allowing athletes to compete at an elite level.

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