Gestalt and Temporal Spatial Approaches to Movement Analysis

It is extraordinary that experienced coaches can often identify, with only the naked eye, faults and inefficiencies in the movement of their athletes that occur in the briefest of moments. At the core of theories of how such movement analysis is possible, is the concept of the schema (8). The term schema is used to describe an abstract representation of rules governing movement (Schmidt cited in Magill & Anderson, 2013) and the accumulation of such schema enable the coach to develop a mental picture of what movement is correct and should be expected (1, 6).

The Gestalt Model of Movement Analysis

The Gestalt approach to qualitative movement analysis relies on the triggering of schema held in the long-term memory of the coach (8). The coach looks at the whole of the movement to gain an impression (Gestalt) of whether the quality of what is viewed is in accordance with internalised schema and can be declared as broadly acceptable (6). The Gestalt approach can be enhanced by the coach clarifying the correctness of their memorised schema and, in a written form, crystallising the essence of an acceptable performance in terms of movement preparation and execution (2). An example of such an approach is presented in Table 2.

Ultimately, the question is whether the Gestalt approach is appropriate and sufficient for coaching at the High Performance level. In my view, as a coach and coach educator in Olympic Weightlifting, there is value in the Gestalt model for use in real-time coaching yet neither coach education curricula nor general literature on Weightlifting contain any reference to this approach. In my own coaching practise, I am accustomed to obtaining an overall impression of an athlete’s movement based upon a very small number of significant criteria that enable inferences to be made about the biomechanical efficiencies of the movement. Table 1 below provides an abbreviated Gestalt Model for analysis of the Snatch. The key inference made is that if an athlete can arrest a bar motionless in the receiving position for the snatch, then to some extent there must have been some biomechanical efficiency achieved in the performance.

Table 1: Gestalt Model (abbreviated) – Gaining an Impression of the Snatch
AcceptableNot Acceptable
Athlete appears to move under the bar fluently into the receiving position and attains a situation where the bar is momentarily motionless overhead.Athlete movement under the bar appears awkward or constrained and a motionless position under the bar is usually not attained.

Table 2 below provides a more extended Gestalt model for the analysis of the Snatch. The criteria provided improve on the first example given in Table 1, but still only amount to a crude evaluation of performance. However, the provision of further and more comprehensive criteria would undermine the purpose of the Gestalt model which is to assist the observer to obtain an quick impression of efficacy of the movement execution, usually in real time.

It is extraordinary that experienced coaches can often identify, with only the naked eye, faults and inefficiencies in the movement of their athletes that occur in the briefest of moments. At the core of theories of how such movement analysis is possible, is the concept of the schema (8). The term schema is used to describe an abstract representation of rules governing movement (Schmidt cited in Magill & Anderson, 2013) and the accumulation of such schema enable the coach to develop a mental picture of what movement is correct and should be expected (1, 6).

The Gestalt Model of Movement Analysis

The Gestalt approach to qualitative movement analysis relies on the triggering of schema held in the long-term memory of the coach (8). The coach looks at the whole of the movement to gain an impression (Gestalt) of whether the quality of what is viewed is in accordance with internalised schema and can be declared as broadly acceptable (6). The Gestalt approach can be enhanced by the coach clarifying the correctness of their memorised schema and, in a written form, crystallising the essence of an acceptable performance in terms of movement preparation and execution (2). An example of such an approach is presented in Table 2.

Ultimately, the question is whether the Gestalt approach is appropriate and sufficient for coaching at the High Performance level. In my view, as a coach and coach educator in Olympic Weightlifting, there is value in the Gestalt model for use in real-time coaching yet neither coach education curricula nor general literature on Weightlifting contain any reference to this approach. In my own coaching practise, I am accustomed to obtaining an overall impression of an athlete’s movement based upon a very small number of significant criteria that enable inferences to be made about the biomechanical efficiencies of the movement. Table 1 below provides an abbreviated Gestalt Model for analysis of the Snatch. The key inference made is that if an athlete can arrest a bar motionless in the receiving position for the snatch, then to some extent there must have been some biomechanical efficiency achieved in the performance.

Table 1: Gestalt Model (abbreviated) – Gaining an Impression of the Snatch
AcceptableNot Acceptable
Athlete appears to move under the bar fluently into the receiving position and attains a situation where the bar is momentarily motionless overhead.Athlete movement under the bar appears awkward or constrained and a motionless position under the bar is usually not attained.

Table 2 below provides a more extended Gestalt model for the analysis of the Snatch. The criteria provided improve on the first example given in Table 1, but still only amount to a crude evaluation of performance. However, the provision of further and more comprehensive criteria would undermine the purpose of the Gestalt model which is to assist the observer to obtain an quick impression of efficacy of the movement execution, usually in real time.

Table 2: Gestalt Model (extended) – Evaluating the Snatch
Evaluation Criteria
  1. Athlete relies on leg action to create upward movement of the athlete/barbell system
  2. Athlete achieves full extension of the body
  3. Athlete moves rapidly under the bar
  4. Athlete adopts low squat position to receive bar overhead
  5. Athlete maintains balance throughout the movement including when receiving the bar overhead
  6. Athlete appears confident and safe in performing the lift

The concern of the High Performance Coach is to identify and improve any aspect of movement that is the weakest link. The Gestalt Model, with an emphasis on forming an overall impression, does not provide a sufficient framework for identifying opportunities for performance improvement. Irrespective of the overall acceptability of performance, coaches must probe movement patterns for areas of weakness on a scale that is small and hard to detect. In Olympic Weightlifting, experienced coaches tend to take an approach that scholars of Human Movement Analysis would likely describe as following the Temporal and Spatial Model. The approach is spatial because the athlete’s body shape at any stage of the movement execution is scrutinised and compared to an ideal model. The approach is temporal because the whole movement is a temporal sequence of planned events that must transpire within a narrow corridor of time intervals. The Temporal and Spatial Model affords the opportunity to dissect movement and investigate in great detail every aspect of performance from start to finish. Whereas the Gestalt Model has great value for on-field coaching, the Temporal and Spatial Model has greatest value in off-field coaching as it is time and resource intensive.

The Temporal and Spatial Model of Movement Analysis

Table 3 and 4 provide two alternative Temporal and Spatial Models for the Snatch but with temporal phasing that is contrary to the expected three phases of preparation, execution and follow-through found in movement analysis literature (3, 8, 6, 4). The term ‘follow-through’ is unknown in Olympic Weightlifting vernacular or literature and use of this term would likely confuse persons with an interest in Weightlifting. Similarly, the model presented lacks use of the term ‘preparation’ which in Weightlifting is replaced by ‘start position’.  Instead, the temporal phasing consists of movement segments (Table 3) or, as preferred, positions of the body at key stages of the movement (Table 4). According to Arend & Higgins (1976), phases can be arbitrarily defined depending on the complexity of the movement and the observer’s purpose in doing the analysis.

Temporal and Spatial Model of Movement Analysis woth Body Segment Action
Table 4: Temporal and Spatial Model of Movement Analysis - Describing positions of the body

 Outlining the movement analysis process

In order to perform a meaningful qualitative analysis of any skill, the observer must develop in advance a framework that provides for clarity in making judgments about the skill being observed (1). Scholars of qualitative movement analysis advocate that such a framework is a process that follows a number of logical steps (1, 8, 5, 6). The framework offered by Knudson (2013), referred to as the comprehensive model, is a four-step process of preparation, observation, evaluation and diagnosis, and intervention.

Preparation Phase

The ability of a coach to make valid judgments about the effectiveness of any movement they observe is highly dependent upon gaining a deep understanding of the movement through thorough investigation. Arend & Higgins (1976) referred to such investigation as ‘decomposition’ and in the case of the Snatch this would entail a determination of aspects of performance as detailed in Table 5. Sources of knowledge would include personal observations, video of expert performers, discussions with recognised coaches, and literature on the Snatch that sheds light on techniques and mechanical properties of performance. The object of the preparation phase is for the coach to develop a clear model of what constitutes an ideal performance in the Snatch (6).

Table 5: Knowledge required by the analyst
Goal of the movement
Skill classification (e.g. Gentile’s Taxonomy)
Recognised techniques
Regulatory conditions
Temporal phases of the action
Actions of body segments
Critical features of the movement

Observation

Observation is the second step in the Knudson comprehensive model. In coaching situations, a number of factors conspire to make observation difficult and these factors include the quickness of the movement, closeness to the action, environmental distractions, and the coach’s perceptual ability. Overcoming these difficulties requires a readiness on the part of the observer and Knudson (2013) termed this readiness as having a systematic observational strategy (SOS). For example, in the Snatch the coach will need to know what critical aspects of technique they must observe/video, the best possible vantage point from which to observe, the conditions that will assist the athlete to perform (e.g. warm-up), the number of trials needed and information additional to video that the observer needs to take away. The SOS would best be formalised in writing before observation takes place. It is also necessary for the observer to militate against their own bias (6) and therefore the SOS may include other observers with suitable credentials.

Evaluation and Diagnosis

Evaluation is made all the easier by affordable technology. Video recordings can be worked on by examining movement in slow motion and comparing in more detail, using the Temporal and Spatial Model, the observed body and limb positions with ideal models as determined in the preparation phase of the investigation. The comparison would be expected to yield desirable and undesirable features of the observed action and this information should be preserved in a formal manner for future reference and the preparation of intervention strategies if required (6).  The observer’s understanding of critical features of performance is exceptionally important and forms the basis for developing a prioritised intervention plan for dealing with any undesirable features of movement found.

Intervention

For the Weightlifter, intervention strategies may include specific work to improve flexibility, speed of movement, body positions at critical moments of the lift, and timing of movement under the bar. Furthermore, interventions may include training for strength in various part of the lift (overhead strength, or power in the finish of the pull), and the development of mental skills including altering the athlete’s conceptual understanding of what the Snatch actually is. It is of critical importance that such intervention strategies are prioritised and applied in a manner that does not lead to breakdown in the performer’s confidence and enjoyment.

References

  1. Arend & Higgins (1976). A strategy for the classification, subjective analysis, and observation of human movement. Journal of Human Movement Studies, 2, 36-52
  2. Dunham, P., (1994). Evaluation for physical education. Englewood, Co: Morton
  3. Gangstead, S.K., & Beveridge, S.K., (1984). The implementation and evaluation of a methodological approach to qualitative sport skill analysis instruction. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 3, 2, 60-70
  4. Hughes, M., & Franks, I., (2007). The essentials of performance analysis: An introduction, New York, NY: Routledge
  5. James, R., & Dufek, J.S., (1993). Movement observation: What to watch . . . and why. Strategies, 6, 2, 17-19
  6. Knudson, D., (2013). Qualitative diagnosis of human movement: Improving performance in sport and exercise. Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics
  7. Magill, R. A., & Anderson, D.I. (2013). Motor learning and control: Concepts and applications (10th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
  8. Pinheiro, V.E.D., & Simon, H.A., (1992). An operational model of motor skill diagnosis. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 11, 288-302
  9. Pinheiro 2000). Qualitative analysis: Putting it all together: Qualitative analysis for the elementary grades, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, Dance, 71, 1, 18-25