I was in my late 30s before I knew that you could improve your coordination. Up until that point, I thought that you were either coordinated or you weren’t and that I was decidedly not. It wasn’t like I was banging into things or falling down all the time, but I found it incredibly frustrating to do any sort of sport or physical activity – I just couldn’t ‘get it.’
I hated gym class, right up until I could opt out in high school. I couldn’t figure out how to catch the ball/move my feet/jump that high and no one seemed to be able to explain it to me. I struggled in the dance classes I took as a kid – matching the steps to the music was excruciating and it took me forever to learn the routines.
Whether I was trying to play a sport or do a set of dance steps, my brain and my body took a long time to start communicating. I could always see what I needed to do, I could probably even describe it to you, but I just couldn’t make my body do the thing – especially if it involved various steps.
As an adult, I found some work-arounds when things were really important to me. I would bring my sister Denise to dance classes I wanted to take. She picks up movements quickly and she could break the actions into descriptions I could memorize (turn, then heel click, wiggle, shake it out). I would write out descriptions of movements where I could, find ‘early warning’ cues in the music in order to prepare for actual cues, and I would stick to the parts of sports and activities that I could be less-than-totally-awful at.
Those workarounds meant that I could get along well enough to enjoy a dance class or two, or participate enough to get by, but when I started to do Taekwondo, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to ‘get by’ – I wanted to be good at it.
I still used all my work-arounds – describing the movements to myself (step, step, Wonder Woman arms), using cues in the room, getting help from someone who could translate the movements for me (Thanks, Kev!) but I knew it was going to take more than that. So, I started to learn more about how I learn and that led to figuring out that I could improve my coordination, my proprioception (sense of spatial orientation and movement), and my ability to process and understand instruction about movements.
I still don’t pick up new patterns easily and I have to use all my work-arounds (at least in the early stages) but I enjoy the sense that it is *possible* for me to learn these things. I no longer feel stuck and I recognize my stages of learning. I know what progress looks like for me and it feels good to be improving my skills all the time.
However, it really annoys me when I think about all the time that I spent believing that I just wasn’t good at sports. When I think of how many other women believe the same thing, it annoys me even more. If it weren’t for my determination to learn TKD, I would probably have never broken out of that belief.
And, while I know that there are lots of men who have been told that they are uncoordinated or bad at sports, I can’t help but wonder how much I was limited because of my gender. If had been a guy, would I have been encouraged to try more often? Would I have been given more frequent opportunities to practice coordination-building activities? Did gym teachers assume that, because I was a girl, my sports skills mattered less?
I don’t know, of course. Perhaps the idea that coordination is a learned skill might just be new, and it wasn’t taught to anyone when I was a kid.
Either way, I know it now, and I am passing that message on. Any time I help with Taekwondo instruction, I don’t let anyone believe that they are ‘just uncoordinated’. And every warm-up that I lead includes some exercises that improve coordination and proprioception. I’m getting better at those things all the time, and I am bringing everyone I can along with me.