On Athletic Skill

Don't you love that feeling of being in "the zone"? You feel ready for anything, ready to move in any direction. Your movements are quick, precise, effective. You can clearly see all around you and anticipate what you need to do next. You have the power to explode with movement. Your actions feel effortless, 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.

Don't you love how it feels when you're picking up new skills? And don't you love when you're refining skills and adjusting them to more challenging situations? Don't you love when you have breakthroughs, when something that was awkward and difficult suddenly seems easy, almost effortless? 

Don't you hate how it feels when you're off your game?  You feel uncoordinated, not yourself. Have you ever felt stuck on a performance plateau? Have you ever been in a performance slump? You can't even do what you used to do; everything feels more difficult. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you practice, you don't improve. In fact, sometimes the harder you try, the worse your performance gets. Don't you hate how it feels when your body won't do what you want it to do? 

Or maybe your body just won't do what you want it to do without causing you pain or injury. Beyond the pain you feel while performing, you might also feel inflexibility, poor balance, weakness, or slowness. Maybe you feel like one wrong move could tear a muscle, a tendon, or a ligament or could aggravate an injury you already have. Maybe you're completely side-lined from your favorite sports.

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 will not help. Think about it--if you increase your muscle mass, and therefore your potential strength, but you cannot 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 are also learning how to move more efficiently so you don't waste your increasing store of energy and power. And again, pushing yourself through endurance or plyometric training in an inefficient way can be seriously harmful to your body.

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 even 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. In order to perform complex actions and keep your mind free to think about strategy, you do need your trained habits- movement patterns that are so engrained you don't have to think about them. And yet, your habits are also what block you from learning and improving. So how do you resolve this conflict between the need for trained habits and the need to think and move outside of trained habits?

I hate to see people limit themselves with the false belief 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 that their decline in performance is an unavoidable result of aging. Afterall, 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 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... ) And aging does have its effects, but one of them can be an increasing ability to move around every new obstacle that aging puts in your way.

The good news is coordination is learned. Watch how fast babies and toddlers learn coordination! Consider how fast adults who suddenly lose limbs, 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 brain injury, another one can often be found. This is neuroplasticity. 

You have learned an incredible degree of coordination already. You have been using this neuroplasticity your whole life. But you can access neuroplasticity more consciously and 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, goal-driven nature! This is what I teach you to do in a structured, systematic way with Feldenkrais lessons. I can help you improve your movement efficiency this way. You can use the time you spend focusing on these lessons to move outside of your old habits. Then you can reinforce your new movement options with practice until they are easily available to you. 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. 

Because of my own experience with playing sports, including at the collegiate level, I have particular interest in working with athletes. I enjoy working with athletes of any age and ability. To help you, I do not need to be able to do the action that you want to learn or improve and do without causing yourself pain and injury. I only need you to be able to describe what you want to do and demonstrate it as best as you can. My talent is for being able to see what is getting in your way. The things that get in your way are habitual movement patterns that are so engrained that you probably don't realize you do them. 

Some of the workshops that I offer 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

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

 To schedule an initial consultation with me, call me at 512-766-4439