Improving Athletic Skill

Because of my background in playing sports competitively (and all too often with injury, chronic pain, and performance slumps), I have particular interest in helping athletes improve their skills while preventing and healing injuries. I enjoy working with athletes of any age and ability who are ready to work smarter rather than just working harder. To help you improve your skills without causing yourself pain and injury, I don't need to be able to do those skills myself; I only need for you to be able to describe what you want to do and demonstrate it as best you can. My skill is in seeing what habits are getting in your way and designing lessons to help you get them out of your way. 

If you have particular goals for improving your athletic performance or you'd like me to work with your group of athletes, please give me a call. I'd love to hear what you're interested in doing and work out a plan with you.

Some of the workshops I've offered to groups of athletes include:

  • Higher Jumping With Less Effort and Strain
  • Using Your Arms with Maximum Power and Precision and Minimum Pain and Injury
  • Improving Depth Perception, Visual Field, and Visual Focus
  • Safely Increasing Range of Motion Without Stretching

The Feldenkrais® approach to improving athletic skill:

Everyone loves that feeling of being "in the zone", whether playing a sport, playing a musical instrument, creating a work of art, or solving a problem. When you're in the zone while playing a sport, you feel confident and ready to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Your movements are precise and effective. You can clearly see all around you and anticipate what you need to do next. Your movements feel effortless and graceful. There's no need for mind over body; your mind and body are one. You think what you need to do, and it is done.

And when you're in the zone while practicing your sport, you pick up new skills and refine old skills with ease. You have frequent breakthroughs- something that was awkward and difficult becomes easy, almost effortless. 

At some time, you've probably also felt the frustration of being "off your game."  You feel uncoordinated, not yourself. Have you ever been stuck on a performance plateau? Have you ever gone into a performance slump, unable to even do what you used to do? No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you practice, it doesn't get better. In fact, sometimes the harder you try, the worse your performance gets. Your body won't do what you want it to do. 

Maybe pain, "tightness", or injury are interfering with your performance. Maybe you feel as though one wrong move could tear a muscle, a tendon, or a ligament or it could aggravate an injury you already have. Maybe you're completely side-lined from your favorite sports due to injury.

When you improve the efficiency of your movements, you improve the effectiveness of your actions and you reduce harm to yourself. So, how do you improve the efficiency of your movements?

Often, we turn to training that increases muscle mass, endurance, or explosive power to improve our performance. But if we're not also improving our efficiency, these efforts won't help much. Think about it- if you increase your muscle mass, and therefore your potential strength, but you can't harness that strength efficiently, your strength is wasted. And, worse, you can hurt yourself with greater force! Endurance training or plyometric training can only help you if you're also learning how to move more efficiently, so that you don't waste your energy and power. Pushing yourself through endurance or plyometric training in an inefficient way can cause you serious injury.

Repetition (practice, training, doing drills) is necessary to improve your athletic skill. But it's not sufficient to improve your athletic skill. And sometimes, ironically, practice can work against you. If you're repeating a skill, without variation, in a way that is mechanically inefficient (and therefore ineffective and also harmful to your body), this will only help you get better at doing the skill in an inefficient, ineffective, and harmful way. However you do need your trained habits, those basic movement patterns that are so engrained that you don't have to think about them. You can't perform complex actions and keep your mind free to think about strategy without them. You can't walk and talk without them. And yet, it is your habits (of thinking, feeling, and moving) that block you from learning.

So how do you resolve this conflict between the need for trained habits and the need to think and move outside of your trained habits?

Athletes often limit themselves with false beliefs that they just aren't naturally good enough to improve beyond a certain point. They think that their disappointing performance limitations are genetically determined or determined by habits that are too set in stone to change now. Or perhaps they think they'll never be able to overcome the lasting effects of injuries. Sometimes they think their decline in performance is an unavoidable result of aging. After all, they practice and practice; they have a great coach who runs them through excellent drills that are designed to improve their skill; their coach can show them and describe to them how to do it right; but they just don't get better. Well, some things are genetically determined to a great extent and they may give you advantages or disadvantages depending on your sport (i.e. your height, your ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibers, the length of your ligaments,... ) Injuries do set limitations; but we can learn to move around those limitations, to find the best adaptations. And we can heal faster and better by improving how we use ourselves. We can learn to stop "limping" once our damaged tissues have repaired. We can learn to quit creating the conditions that keep us from healing properly and may have led to our injuries in the first place. Aging also has its effects; but again, one of them can be an increasing ability to adapt to new limitations. And much of what we think of as the inevitable result of getting older (poorer vision, slower responses...) is not always inevitable nor always irreversible. 

The good news is coordination is learned. Watch how fast babies and toddlers develop their coordination and adapt to their environment! Consider how fast adults who suddenly lose use of a limb, parts of their brain, sight, or hearing learn to move or use other senses in ways they never would have imagined possible. Our brains are extremely plastic. If one neural pathway is blocked due to injury, another one can often be found. Or that pathway can be reestablished.This is neuroplasticity. 

You have learned an incredible degree of coordination already. You have been using neuroplasticity your whole life. But you can wire and rewire you nervous system more consciously to improve movement skills more quickly. Certain key things are needed: experimentation with a variety of movements, noticing subtle differences among those movements, and an emotional state that is conducive to learning. The necessary emotional state is one of well-being and wonder. You must be having fun and be curious, willing to explore and make mistakes, rather than trying to get it right every time. If your goal is to compete at a higher level, you need to temporarily shut off your competitive nature!

This is what I teach you to do in a structured, systematic way with Feldenkrais lessons. This is how I can help you improve your movement efficiency. You use the time you spend focusing on these lessons to move outside of your old habits and learn new ways of moving. Then you practice your new movement options until they are easily available to you. But you also continue tweaking those patterns to fit the everchanging circumstances in which you're performing them. This is how you resolve the conflict between the need for trained habits and the need to move outside of those habits- you go back and forth between exploring movement patterns and reinforcing movement patterns. Over time, you may develop the habit of nearly constantly exploring and refining your movements, your breathing, your thinking, and your feeling, as you go about your your athletic and everyday activities.