Recently I’ve been thinking about the fastest and easiest ways to help my students improve coordination. I figured I’d share them with you!
What is Coordination?
The dictionary defines coordination as “to place in proper order, position or relationship.” In movement, this means the ability to organize yourself to perform an action smoothly and efficiently.
Many people feel they’re inherently uncoordinated, as if the Coordination Fairy skipped them at birth. But the truth is people aren’t born with good coordination. Coordination is a learned, practiced skill that begins with active effort. This means anyone, at any age, can improve coordination.
Anyone who’s been around babies has witnessed how much frustration they experience as they learn to roll, reach, grasp, crawl and walk. It’s only after lots of experimenting and many failures that smooth coordination starts to develop. Eventually this becomes a reliable, automatic ability. Really complex actions like walking, driving, or even flipping a pancake seem so effortless now that we forget how awkward and uncoordinated we were when we first did them.
So if you think you’re clumsy, graceless or have two left feet, don’t write off your coordination potential. Coordination is a skill that can be improved whatever your age!
Why Does Coordination Matter?
While you can get by in modern life with a mediocre level of coordination, there are numerous benefits to actively developing your coordination.
Obviously, improving your coordination makes moving easier and more enjoyable, and increases your balance. Moving more harmoniously also reduces wear and tear on your joints and tissues, helping reduce tension and pain.
But improving coordination is good for more than just your body. Better coordination increases self-confidence and allows you to pick up new skills faster and easier. And numerous studies have shown that learning new combinations of movements improves cognition, attention, memory and social communication. Coordination training is brain training!
3 Easy Ways to Improve Your Coordination
Good coordination can be broken down into three key elements: timing, orientation and manipulation. Timing includes the sequence and speed of your movements. Orientation includes knowing where you are in space and maintaining your equilibrium. Manipulation means organizing the appropriate parts of yourself to move with the right amount of effort for precision and/or power. These three elements come into play whenever you learn a new movement.
As adults, when we don’t immediately “get” something new, our impulse is usually to try harder, go faster and hold our breath. This reaction only impedes our learning and coordination.
Instead, here are 3 simple strategies to help you improve coordination and be more coordinated in everything you do:
Coordination Tip #1: Slow It Down
As adults we forget that learning is inherently challenging. The learning process can be slow, involves a lot of trial and error (including failure), and usually evokes a mix of frustration and enjoyment. So when you do a new movement or activity, be patient and give yourself ample time to get the hang of it.
Next, slow the movement down. You and your nervous system learn by paying attention and noticing differences. When you move quickly there’s no time to feel or track the details.
So for a couple minutes (or more), do the movement very S-L-O-W-L-Y (perhaps 10% of its normal speed). Then notice what and how you’re doing the movement. Observe where it’s smooth and where it isn’t. Are there parts you skip over? Perhaps you’re using more muscular effort than necessary? Observe whether you’re doing something might interfere with the movement such as tightening your jaw or looking down at the ground? Get curious about the nuances of your movement.
After doing the movement slowly several times, pause and let it all go. Then do the movement at regular speed again. Are you a little more coordinated?
Coordination Tip #2: Do One Part at a Time
This coordination tip seems obvious but is often overlooked: Break the movement into pieces and practice one piece at a time.
For example, movements in dance and sports usually involve doing something with both your arms and your feet. In this case, first do just the arm movements several times. Keep your feet still or let your feet move however they want while you focus on your arms. Next, practice moving just your feet and legs without your arms. Once you can do each part smoothly on it’s own, combine the two into one organic movement.
It’s amazing how much faster you can learn a complex movement when you break it into pieces instead of trying to do it all at once!
Coordination Tip #3: Visualize the Movement
The final way to improve coordination is to create a clear picture of the movement in your imagination and/or kinesthetic sense. You can do this mentally without actually moving. Alternatively, you can visualize/feel the whole movement as you do it slowly.
Pay particular attention to where the movement starts and it’s sequence (i.e. how the movement travels through you). You might also notice the direction and path of your hand, head, pelvis or other part takes through space.
When you clarify the image of what you want, you movement becomes easier and more fluid. Plus, in your imagination you can do anything you want. So go ahead and make it as smooth and fabulous as you’d like!
To Sum Up…
The fastest, easiest way to improve your coordination is to take a few minutes (or even 30 seconds) to do a movement slowly with awareness. Do just one piece at a time and practice it in your mind’s eye. I invite you to try it right now with any action you’d like to do with a little more grace, be it chopping vegetables, throwing a ball, learning a piece of music or doing a new dance step.