In search of sports biomechanics' holy grail: Can athlete-specific optimum sports techniques be identified?


The development of methods that can identify athlete-specific optimum sports techniques—arguably the holy grail of sports biomechanics—is one of the greatest challenges for researchers in the field. This ‘perspectives article' critically examines, from a dynamical systems theoretical standpoint, the claim that athlete-specific optimum sports techniques can be identified through biomechanical optimisation modelling. To identify athlete-specific optimum sports techniques, dynamical systems theory suggests that a representative set of organismic constraints, along with their non-linear characteristics, needs to be identified and incorporated into the mathematical model of the athlete. However, whether the athlete will be able to adopt, and reliably reproduce, his/her predicted optimum technique will largely be dependent on his/her intrinsic dynamics. If the attractor valley corresponding to the existing technique is deep, or if the attractor valleys corresponding to the existing technique and the predicted optimum technique are in different topographical regions of the dynamic landscape, technical modifications may be challenging or impossible to reliably implement even after extended practice. The attractor layout defining the intrinsic dynamics of the athlete, therefore, needs to be determined to establish the likelihood of the predicted optimum technique being reliably attainable by the athlete. Given the limited set of organismic constraints typically used in mathematical models of athletes, combined with the methodological challenges associated with mapping the attractor layout of an athlete, it seems unlikely that athlete-specific optimum sports techniques will be identifiable through biomechanical optimisation modelling for the majority of sports skills in the near future.

Journal of Biomechanics