In this article we delve deeper into an interesting topic related to motor control treated by Frans Bosch, a Dutch university professor, one of the world’s leading experts on the topic of motor learning, in the chapter “Fine-Tuning Motor Control” in the book “ High-Performance training for Sports” by David Joice and Daniel Lewindon.

Frans Bosch can be defined as one of the greatest exponents of the theory of dynamic systems applied to the study of motor control. Until the mid-1980s, the most popular theories regarding the strategies the human organism used to control its movements envisaged “hierarchical” models in which the brain was seen as the command center of motor control. In these theories (of which Schmidt’s Schema theory was probably the most complete and detailed) the motor programs, once established in the higher areas, were “sent” to the periphery (to the muscles) for practical execution. The body was therefore seen as a mere executor of the brain’s desires.

If this type of model could be satisfactory within closed-skill sports, such as the various disciplines of athletics, it did not add up when it came to controlling complex movements within variable environments . Let’s think about team sports for example, where athletes have to make decisions in just a few moments and always find new movement solutions. Can the brain, on its own, process so much information in such a short time?

Dynamic systems theory, developed at the end of the 20th century, attempts to explain these more complex interactions. With this new model, the hierarchical idea of movement organization is abandoned, but at each level of the system (cerebral level, spinal level, peripheral level) there are structures capable of controlling movement, depending on the demands of the environment and the type of motor expression required. The organization of the system therefore involves both a top-down model (from the brain to the muscles) and a bottom-up model (from the body to the higher areas).


There are essentially two systems that our organism can use to control its movements and the choice of one or the other depends on the demands of the surrounding environment.

We have what Bosch calls Working Memory which uses conscious control of movement, and is suitable for slow processes and new and extremely specific movement solutions. Alternatively we can use the Hard Drive (hard disk), based on unconscious control, for movements subjected to great time pressure and for those already learned, automated, in long-term memory. Increasing scientific evidence suggests that these two systems operate separately. One of the most concrete proofs in support of their autonomy is the connection with different vision systems: conscious control is connected with central vision (for the observation of shapes), while unconscious control is connected with peripheral vision (for ‘observation of movement).

The execution of sports performance requires both control systems depending on the situation that occurs. If there is sufficient time available (think of the golf player who prepares the shot of the swing) conscious control can come into action, while if this time is not there (think of the tennis player who, once at the net, has to return the ball in the opponent’s field) it is our Hard Drive that comes into action.
In situation sports, such as football, basketball, rugby, etc., where the surrounding environment is absolutely unpredictable and where the congestion of several players within small spaces make the demands for movement speed extremely high, it is often this control system that comes into action.
It becomes necessary to ensure that the athletes’ learning is stored inside the Hard Drive since in this way they can be “caught” at the right time during the performance.
The problem can arise when the learning of our athletes is instead stored in the Working Memory, as it was developed in training sessions in which the possibility ofive conscious control which, however, in the reality of an unpredictable and extremely chaotic performance environment cannot be called into play.


Frans Bosch defines it this way: “to choke”. But what does it mean to “choke” during the performance?
The learning developed through conscious control, therefore in controlled situations, without time pressure, cannot be archived in the Hard Drive, since their structure does not adapt to that matrix.
Training methods that involve the use of working memory show immediate improvements during practice. Execution improves during training. However, the real learning process is invisible, has different dynamics and the effectiveness of these learnings ultimately turns out to be rather low.

“As shocking as it may seem to most coaches, the better the practice results at the end of training, the less the athlete will have learned. The results of practice and the results of learning are antagonistic” Frans Bosch

Consequently all coach instructions that trigger conscious control should be avoided. Use internal feedback, as explained in Wulf’s article , activates the working memory within which the learning will be stored.

And here the CHOKING phenomenon occurs. When, especially in the early stages of learning, an athlete is subjected to too much internal feedback, he not only learns how to perform the movement but also how to build (or re-build) it in working memory. In stressful situations, such as for example during performance in situation sports, where there is high pressure both in terms of time and space, the athlete needs to activate his own “hard disk” using automated movements. If, however, he does not have the possibility to do so because his learnings are constructed through working memory, the athlete encounters the phenomenon of choking, or suffocation of his own ability, which will be less efficient.


Athletes who activate their working memory as little as possible during training will not be able to do so even during competition, thus ensuring a more fluid self-organization of their system in order to find the most efficient movement solution.
The objective of training, especially in the early stages of learning, must be to use working memory as little as possible in order to be able to archive one’s learning directly on one’s hard disk.