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Stories | 02.27.24

From theory to practice: Sport and human performance course shows how people gain, improve skills

This is Adler series logoEditor’s note: Adler University offers a variety of unique learning experiences that train socially responsible practitioners across its three campuses. This is Adler is a monthly series that will highlight these unique programs, courses, and people that help the University educate the advocates of tomorrow.

“Able was I ere I saw Elba”

Destiny Franklin first wrote that phrase — a palindrome supposedly uttered by Napoleon — five times on a piece of paper with her dominant hand. On the next round, she had to tie the pen to her wrist with a rubber band. The next round was followed by writing it with her non-dominant hand.

Then she had to write the phrase with her teeth. Lastly using her foot, with the pen placed in between her toes.

“The activity just showed me how the different limbs and muscles we use affect our motor programming,” said Franklin, a dual-degree student in the Master of Science in Sport and Human Performance (MSHP) and Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling programs.

“It showed how skills develop,” Franklin added. “Yes, not using my dominant hand affected my writing speed and accuracy. But as humans, we can adapt. Given enough time and practice, people who lose their arms may learn how to write with their feet.

Photo of Destiny Franklin playing basketball

Destiny Franklin playing basketball in 2017 at Kenwood Academy High School.

The class activity was part of the laboratory portion of the Motor Learning and Skill Acquisition course, a required class for students in the MSHP program.

Motor learning and skill acquisition, in layman’s terms, explores and breaks down how people gain new skills and improve performance — from riding a bike and kicking a soccer ball to walking down a busy sidewalk.

“It’s unlike any other course students take during their time at Adler because it’s an exercise science course,” said associate professor Terilyn Shigeno, Ph.D., who teaches the course. “Many of the students in the MSHP program are athletes themselves, so the interactive labs give them the opportunity to be more active and relate what they’re learning in class to their abilities.”

As a former basketball player and a budding artist, Franklin said she appreciates being able to tie what she has learned from the course to the larger MSHP program, and ultimately to what she hopes to do in her professional career as a certified mental performance consultant.

What led you to Adler?

When I looked at the list of schools that offered sports psychology and interviewed at many of them, Adler really stood out for offering a dual degree option and its social justice aspect. Also, I’ve previously lived in Chicago, so this felt like a homecoming in a sense.

What sparked your interest in becoming a mental performance consultant?

I’ve been an athlete most of my life, specializing in basketball since I was 6 or 7 and played through high school. In my career, I had some bad coaches. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that they could have given me, and my teammates, more mental support that could have helped me with my performance.

During undergrad, I was studying veterinary medicine, which I knew wasn’t really for me. One day, I was watching LeBron James’ show “The Shop.” He talked about having a mental performance consultant, and I was like, whoa, I didn’t even know that career existed. When I did a deep dive on what a performance consultant does, I realized that I could have used their help with my self-confidence during some challenging times in my competitive career. That’s what drew me to the field.

What have you enjoyed most about the Motor Learning and Skill Acquisition course?

To complete the MSHP program and to be certified as a performance consultant, I need to take an exercise science course. So, first, I’m just glad to be able to fulfill that requirement with the Motor Learning and Skill Acquisition course.

Photo of Destiny Franklin performing

Destiny Franklin performs in 2022 at Plaza Palooza, a festival hosted by her alma mater, Oregon State University. In the back, Franklin’s mom performs as the DJ.

Honestly, at first, I was nervous about the course because of its focus on science, including sport psychology and biology. But so far, I’m enjoying it, and I’m learning a lot.

For example, one of the chapters we read explained how different environmental factors can affect our motor skills and how we adapt. Think about walking on a crowded street and consider your limbs, muscles, and each swing of your leg. The energy we use, and our time and speed are affected by so many external factors, including the weather, road conditions, other people walking around, vehicles, etc.

After we read a chapter, we’d have a lecture from our professor, followed by a lab that shows us how our strides are affected by external forces, and a class discussion.

Is there anything during the course that has resonated with you?

I’m really enjoying the lab aspect of the course. I remember from undergrad, when taking intro to chem and biology classes, the labs seemed scary. Here, they’ve been fun, and I’ve been able to apply what we’re doing to actual real-life and sport examples.

I was born and raised in Atlanta. But during my junior year of high school, I moved to Chicago to play. I remember that experience of needing time to learn different plays. Well, one of the first chapters focused on athletes’ stimuli response.

When a new player on a team hears a coach call a play, that player will allocate mental resources to their decision-making process. The coach calling a play stimulates a response from the player who then has to execute the play. That response rate only increases and improves through practice and from the player continually hearing the coach’s play-calling.

Photo of Motor Learning and Skill Acquisition Lab

Students walk a straight line as part of their Motor Learning and Skill Acquisition Lab. In later rounds, students try to walk the same line while juggle tennis balls.

How will this course and the MSHP program help you with your goal of becoming a mental performance consultant?

I really believe that what I’m learning at Adler today will help me as a mental performance consultant because motor learning and skills acquisition are foundational when helping people with their performance. And I’m not just talking about athletes. Mental performance consultants can assist other people in high-stress professions. For example, doctors perform all the time and their performance can impact the health of people and communities. As an artist, I look forward to helping others, from dancers to actors, to do their utmost best.

Of course, basketball will always have my heart.

Thinking back to when I first moved to Chicago to play, it really would have been nice to have had a performance consultant to help me integrate into a new team and a new culture of basketball. I definitely can see myself going back and working in the sport world and helping athletes from youth to the collegiate level. Maybe I’ll help athletes at the pro level one day. I know I’ll have to work my way up to that level, but being in the MSHP program is a good start.

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