As some of you know, both of my boys play soccer and I have the absolute joy of watching them both play in the U12’s on a Sunday morning.  At this age the game starts to actually resemble soccer, with players learning to hold their positions and develop plays according to their strengths and what is happening on the field.  So far this season, I have had the luxury of turning up and being a spectator without any responsibilities!

Then, recently, I put my hand up to “run the line.” This means I was responsible for monitoring off-side players, knowing when the ball was out and from whose boot it came off (not always easy, especially when there is a contest for the ball between 2 players). For those of you who don’t follow soccer, there is one side-line umpire for each side of the field, plus the official referee. Thankfully another parent who has 3 boys who all play soccer explained what I had to do . . .

I had never done this task before and I had to really concentrate on what was going on—keeping an eye on the last defending player for off-side, but also watching the play of the ball.  I was nervous—sometimes other parents can get a little “out of joint” with decisions of umpires, especially inexperieneced ones (gulp!). At the end of the first half I realised I had little idea how my 2 boys had done . . . I had been concentrating on the task given to me and being new, it took most of my concentration.

This brings me to the concept of practice.  When we are learning something new, we go through a process of “skill acquisition.”  Initially, the task requires most (or sometimes all) of our attention, and we are not really aware of what else is going on around us.  Think back to your first driving lesson.  Our focus is on mastering the task at hand and we are not really concerned about the “bigger picture.”  As we learn the new skill or task, some part of it becomes automatic and we then have some mental space to consider how this task fits in with other tasks we have to do, or the bigger picture.

This same process occurs when we are helping you get back to normal after pain or injury.  Pain disrupts our normal, automatic movement patterns.  It makes some muscles weak and others “over-active.” Part of getting back to normal is retraining your movement patterns —many patients call this “muscle memory.”  An example of this is someone limping several weeks (or even months) after a hip, knee or ankle injury. They need to be taught how to walk normally again.  This process initially requires a lot of focus and attention, but over time the patient masters the task and we can see what else needs to be done and look at the bigger picture.  As physiotherapists our job is to guide you in how best to restore normal movement, whether it is exercises, taping, watching a video of yourself moving
or effective coaching.

In the end, though, it is up to you to practice, in order to master your movement.