Lionel Messi and…Grappliing???

It was called a “sprinkling of sorcery” by commentator Sam Matterface on UK broadcaster ITV.

Matterface and expert analysts Lee Dixon and Ally McCoist had just witnessed 35-year-old Lionel Messi take apart one of the standout defenders in the World Cup, Josko Gvardiol, to create the goal that sealed Argentina’s 3-0 victory over Croatia in last Tuesday’s semi-final.

If that moment was a sprinkling of sorcery, for me, this penalty shot by Messi to help seal the World Cup championship for Argentina is black magic. I’ve been mesmerized by this vignette ever since, particularly how completely nonchalant he scores here, yet within such stressful context.

How does Messi’s skill appear so effortless in this clip (and in so many others!), and what does this have to do with grappling???

Well, I believe Messi expertly demonstrates a key attribute that we try to develop in our practice design for our grapplers here at Horsetooth—PERCEPTION ACTION COUPLING.

We’ve discussed this before, but in simplistic terms, ‘Perception Action Coupling’ is the coordination between vision (including time and space) and movement, particularly of the hands and feet. It’s the link between what we see and what we do, whether on the pitch or mat.

As you can imagine, this coupling is quite important.

This relationship should seem intuitive and simple – until you watch Messi approach the soccer ball and how he intuitively recognizes the direction the goalie is favoring (perception), and then lays an easy shot in the opposite space (action). Indeed, when demonstrated by someone skillful, it may seem like magic!

Or maybe even overwhelming…How can we increase perception action coupling with our athletes, particularly when grappling is their part-time avocation?

We’ll have more to say on this, but realize that most martial arts schools—and soccer clubs—focus on the ‘action’ part of this chain. Technique repetitions (i.e., the 10,000x rule), drills with compliant partners, kata, etc.

But here’s something to consider–the ability to perceive can improve. If there is always more structure that can be clarified with more exploration, then the possibility for enhanced perceiving is always present.

Since perception is critical to good motor control, and perception can be enhanced, it must be the case that enhanced perception leads to better motor skills!

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