Top-down or bottom-up

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Before studying physiotherapy I studied sports coaching. My thought process was always the traditional way, which basically meant: Technique, Tactics, Fitness and Mental. Team sports sessions, like football and basketball, were often divided into dribbling through cones and a game at the end. After this the teachers hoped that we were able to dribble better in a game situation. But when suddenly an opponent appeared in front of us things changed drastically. The fitness part of it was divided into 5 subjects: Endurance, Strength, Speed, Flexibility and Coordination. You needed all 5 aspects, more or less, to be able to be successful in your sport, was stated. The starting point of the fitness sessions was often one of those 5 characteristics. If you train speed you will get better at speed in your sport. This is a bottom-up approach by using this speed reference. By using this method you hope things will improve by taking it out of its context. Wishful thinking is what this is also called…..

Some months ago I attended a rehab and strength course. The content of the course was structured top-down, instead of the usual bottom-up. The difference between my sports education and this course was that the reference was always the game itself. The instructors on the course constantly reminded the participants of this fact. The context is always your starting point and that learning is always context related. In this case the course context was the game of football. When we use the game of football as a starting reference it should also be exactly the same in football rehab or any other new learning situation in life. You will not become a better driver by sitting in your living room with the steering wheel in your hand, pretending to turn it to the left and right for an hour. Firstly you actually have to get into that car and drive off, with an instructor by your side. Driving the car in traffic is the context and will develop the learning opportunity. While driving the car you slowly but surely learn how to handle the car in different situations. However, when the instructor notices that you have problems with a certain situation, he has several methods to teach you. The instructor could use a less busy road or if necessary, driving circles on an empty parking place. This is a top-down approach related to the actual problem taken from the context.

Taking the game as a starting point means that all possible problems should be solved within the game itself. As you can understand this is not always possible. Sometimes a coach sees that a certain player is not executing his actions as he should. In this case he tries to solve this in a training session by using different methods. If there still is no progression, he can ask his specialist assistant coach to teach him how to improve a certain situation out of context (eg. by training basic actions), but related to the problem. This again is a top down approach. The other way around would be creating problems that don’t even exist. «Coach, I see he is not as strong at the end of the game lately. The tests we did in preseason showed that he lacked strength in his quads». « I suggest he should be doing extra strength sessions». This is a typical bottom-up approach. The coach is taking the strength reference as the starting point and hoping it improves football. As long as the player can execute his actions for 90+ minutes there is no problem.

Thanks for sharing.

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