Operational Definitions


An Operational Definition clarifies exactly what we are talking about in relation to a “thing,” whether it be performing a squat or asking politely for a sombrero. Because we human beings often have different expectations, it is important to distinguish just what we’re talking about, particularly with respect to performing physical tasks.

When we say “He/She can do that.” Do we require an asterisk (*)? Some * moments include:

“He/She can do that” *When prompted multiple times

“He/She can do that” *With me doing most of the task for them

“He/She can do that” *With extremely poor form

“He/She can do that” *In limited situations

I notice this occurring often in situations where an instructor cites that an individual has mastered a particular skill. A few questions on this:

1) What is the criteria for mastery?

2) Has the skill been performed in other settings with other people?

3) Is the skill at a level where it can be performed without an instructor present? (for example, will the individual perform a healthy squat in non-fitness/PE situations?

These are not questions directed towards uncovering some conspiratorial attempt on behalf of an instructor, rather to raise the point of whether or not the “mastered” skill is just that, mastered. Physical fitness, in addition to the adaptive/behavioral and cognitive benefits, should serve the function of providing movement skills and abilities that transcend the “lab,” and become part of healthier, more productive and efficient performance in a variety of situations. For perhaps the last 10 years, the term “functional fitness/training” has been thrown around like a horseshoe. There has been a large quantity of debate within the fitness industry as to what “functional” actually means. From a general/macro perspective, functional should entail the “big” movement patterns that make up the foundation of everything we (should) do; squatting, pushing, pulling, locomotion (point A to point B), and rotation. From the specific/micro vantage, “functional” applies to what an individual needs/wants to do  on a daily basis.

There are certain movement patterns/exercises that just about every one of us need to perform for optimal physical functioning regardless of what else we are doing movement-wise. These should be the foundation for fitness programs, autism-specific or otherwise. From there, we can develop more individualized goals if necessary and/or desirable.

A mastered skill on paper does little in the way of providing the individual with the actual skill, unless that “mastered skill” is actually mastered. We don’t need to hold our students/athletes to a perfect, 100%, A+ standard every day. They are human, and have their off and their way-off days. Hell, there are certainly occasions where I want to have a melt down in line at a store or, worse, in a meeting that goes over an hour. What we want to do is be honest about what our athletes can and cannot do, what appropriate goals are and how we intend to get there, and ensure that the environment is conducive to their success.

Live Inspired,


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