fitness · martial arts

Coordinated Improvement (Guest Post)

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.


5 thoughts on “Coordinated Improvement (Guest Post)

  1. Yup. Coming to aikido in my forties (as a non-athlete), I have been on a similar path. I was just always told I wasn’t coordinated. But now I see coaches (and my husband) working patiently with my kids to develop all sorts of skills and muscle memory. I wish I’d known as a child that these things were teachable, not only inheritable.

    In the spirit of continuous improvement – any suggestions for exercises that improve coordination and proprioception? (or sites that discuss these?)

    1. I see we have a lot in common! I wish I had known those skills were teachable, too. I have spent a lot of time learning to say the word yet. ‘I don’t understand…yet.’ ‘I can’t do that…yet.’ – adding that word has made a huge difference with my patience with myself.
      Here are some resources for you:
      For balance and general coordination: <- I especially like these.
      Proprioception <- I especially like these.
      Good luck! Let me know how your efforts pay off. 🙂

  2. My mom told me that she never let me do gymnastics or dance with my friends because I was so uncoordinated…now she regrets that as they say gymnastics and dance can help! Both of my boys have taken gymnastics because of that. And my super lanky son has benefitted so much from it! That and having a yoga teacher/exercise physiologist for a mom. 😉 Thank you for not being the only one!

    1. Thanks for reading! I’m glad my post resonated with you, even if it is for a frustrating reason. I hope kids today are getting more accurate information about this stuff. 🙂

  3. @Thrace
    I replied to your comment but it didn’t show up so here it is again:
    It sounds like we have a lot in common. I really wish I had had more accurate information when I was growing up – it would have made a huge difference.
    These days, I embrace the word yet. ‘I can’t do that…yet.’ ‘I don’t understand that…yet.’ and I try to be patient with myself as I remind my brain and my body to talk to each other.
    Here are some resources for you: <–I especially like this one.
    Proprioception <– I especially like this one

Comments are closed.