THE FIRST WORD
“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain't. That's logic.” — Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
From an interview with Naval:
“I think eventually we will start also viewing social media, at least parts of it, as a disease — a real disease, because I think it’s just — over-reliance on social media is making people unhappy, where you’re just comparing your best self as — you’re creating your actual self, sorry. Your worst internal self to everybody else’s best self. At the same time the kids will be used to it, so maybe they’ll be a lot less shocked and outraged. Right now, every time I go on Twitter, there’s an outrage mob. There’s outrage over something trivial and they’re ready to lynch somebody over it.
I think our kids will have gotten over it. They’ll realize that, if you’re well-adapted to modern society, you can’t treat everything that you read as if it’s happening next door to you. The world is just too big of a place to get outraged over everything. I think the next generation will have learned how to be on social media and be a lot calmer. I think, as a society, we’ll hopefully stop tolerating people who get outraged over every little thing and create drama about it.”
I made a couple of comments on my friend Brett Bartholomew’s Instagram page last week. I generally tend not to engage much on social media - I just post once in a while, and that’s about it; I have found I really don’t have the disincline to stop engaging once I start; so I know enough to stay off of that slippery slope altogether.
Anyways - I had a few free minutes one morning this week, and I decided to weigh in on Brett’s assisted sprinting post. My specific comments are not interesting, but when I went through and looked a few of the other comments, it motivated me to write a more general response. Here it is, in it’s entirety:
“I don’t want to come across overly strict, here, but a vast majority of the comments are along the lines of “I believe it ”, or “I think”, etc. Understand that Brett is an experienced coach, with a variety of experiences, who is very-well read, and puts a ton of work into what he does. I’m sure his objective in posting and asking questions is not so other coaches can simply parrot and implement within their own group - but to actually begin a more reasoned discussion within the community. I, for one, applaud him for his efforts, and feel this is a great example of how social media can be used for the good. But this doesn’t happen unless those who engage are also critically asking THEMSELVES questions. We have to understand that while we MAY be entitled to our opinion, it is dishonest for a coach to act upon it if 1) this ‘opinion’ is not based on an objective understanding of that which we are offering it upon; 2) it is costing someone else money-time; and 3) it is potentially injurious. Because you ‘believe’ this, or ‘think’ that is not reason enough for any coach to prescribe a training intervention, and for that matter, ‘because Brett posted it on social media’ is also not a good enough justification. Base decisions on first principles, what we KNOW to be true to the best of our ability, and prescribe interventions based upon CURRENT level of understanding. If our only reason for implementing overspeed sprinting into an athlete’s training is because we ‘think’ something, then that is an opportunity for us to go and learn more about it. For example - someone wrote something about “priming the NS”. Does anyone know what this really means? This type of terminology shouldn’t really exist unless we can accurately define it. If we can define it, then lets do that, and use the opportunity to help others. Someone wrote about faster hamstring contraction speeds. Is this assumption based on research? Or conjecture? It’s one thing to ask questions, another to offer thoughts on these questions, and another altogether on putting the time and effort into offering more than simple ‘opinions’. This is how the industry ends up with ‘gurus’, fads, and gimmicks. Athletes deserve better from our coaches.”
We see this a lot in our industry. We too loosely throw around words or phrases that have been used for decades, and we take them for granted, without a true appreciation for what they mean anymore. I referred to one of these phrases above: “Priming the CNS”.
That same day, I got a text from my friend Shawn Myzscka. Here is the short conversation, as it relates to the above:
Shawn: “Last night I was at some teaching sessions with my jeet kune do guy, watching him teach as well I talking through ideas for his work that he does annually for my NFL guy's coming up. He was leading a group of high level special forces guys through a fighting skill session and said, "we are going to do this for coordination"...then paused, "wait, is this really for coordination because there's not even a contextual problem included here?!" He paused again...he then turned to me & said, "Shawn, what really is movement coordination??" So, in your view, I pose the same question to you cuz I know you enjoy these things...How do you personally define coordination?”
Stu: “This is not easy … and I still don’t have a good definition. Off the top of my head: coordination encapsulates both rhythm and timing; intra- and inter-individual and group dynamics. It is an emergent, self-organizing process of pattern formation that ultimately describes how elements interact with each other - working together to realize an objective.
Q to you: how does coordination differ from ‘dexterity’, as defined by Bernie?”
Shawn: “It's funny cuz everyone thinks they know...yet have such discrepancies when they attempt to articulate it...& when we look at the ideas those various definitions contain, there's so many differences between everyone's viewpoint on a concept that seems pretty important for us to come to common ground on. It made me realize how I can't just go through presentations or conversations using the words coordination, control, organization, optimization, or even skill (& technique!), without first highlighting how I personally view those topics/"entities"
Turns out, Shawn and I had both been thinking about this for a while. And Shawn actually did something about it, as I recommend above within my response on Brett’s IG page. He went back into the research, he asked a bunch of his friends, and then emailed all the responses, and his thoughts to these friends. Out of respect for their privacy, I will leave out the definitions provided by these guys. But I have permission from Shawn to share his thoughts here below:
Anyway, let’s also include a few of the heavy hitters in motor behavior history (with bias from an ecological dynamics framework) offering their hat in the ring for a few swings at the definition:
Nikolai Bernstein himself: Having discussed the topic extensively throughout his form of life (including writing a book which exhaustively covered the topic from his perspective entitled ‘Co-ordination and Regulation of Movements’), Bernstein poignantly chimed in with his most concise description of coordination on page 41 of ‘Dexterity & It’s Development’ under the heading, “What Is Motor Coordination?” where he said, “Coordination is overcoming excessive degrees of freedom of our movement organs, that is, turning the movement organs into controllable systems.” These degrees of freedom, to him (aka Bernstein’s problem), could be both kinematic (mobility of the body) and dynamics (which is more commonly known to most of us as kinetics…forces). Obviously, Bernie’s view at the time was very motor-centric…maybe that’s adequate for our context but maybe it’s incomplete and there’s something more to it as many of you began to highlight in your responses…as Bernstein began to acknowledge that the latter may be the case on the remainder of page 41 and over the next few pages, as well, as he dove into some early thoughts on information and movement coordination (before JJ Gibson & others in ecological psychology were really offering any of their thoughts on how affordances may be playing into the coordination we find). In fact, Bernstein later stated on page 238, that “motor coordination is realized with the help of so-called sensory corrections that is, the processes of continuous correction of movement based on information…”and began to reflect on some ideas of the psycho-physiological mechanisms of coordination which would, at least in my interpretation, begin to intertwine more perception and intention into a more holistic, integrative movement solution (as opposed to a coordinative structure being thought of as simply a motor pattern). In fact, as he began to describe skill, he said it (skill) is “a coordinative structure representing a developed ability to solve a definite type of motor task.” In his viewpoint, TO SOLVE was the goal within any movement action, after all. This again speaks to my personal thoughts regarding that which I believe would have been true had Bernstein lived longer and continued to go down the path he was with his studies & movement behavior theories…he COULD see the importance of the information and perception side of the movement solution (as he pointed out in various ways), he just so happened to focus more of his efforts on studying/understanding/explaining the more mechanical motor processes.
JJ Gibson: Obviously, he was the first to truly make the link between movement coordination and information (in the form of affordances within) in the environment. He considered coordination as “actions emergent in the temporary couplings formed among the individual and the environment.”
Karl Newell: (noting that we are talking about a guy who in his own proposed stage of motor learning concept used “coordination” as the main aspect of the first stage) “Coordination can be viewed as the function that constrains the potentially free variables (degrees of freedom) of a system into a behavioral unit (sometimes he referred to this a functional movement pattern).” Newell has also routinely claimed that coordination and control must always be linked with one another in complimentary roles in that “coordination always occurs with control and vice versa” so in this view we wouldn’t be able to talk about one without mentioning the other. Control to him is, “parameterizing (scaling or tuning) of the relationships of the coordination pattern formed between parts of the human movement system.”
Finally, certain ecological dynamics-oriented minds of today…Davids, Araujo, Seifert, Chow, Button, Bennett, etc, routinely combine the word coordination with the idea of it as a solution. Namely, coordination being a property of the solution that emerges from each individual’s movement system in response to the constraints the system is facing. In sport of course, this means that the coordination an individual displays varies as a consequence of the context in which it emerges (thus, these individual’s philosophical approaches towards perception-action coupling and the creation of representative learning environments).
Okay…as expected, I am rambling. But, to be honest with you, in my 200+ pages of movement meditation brainstorming notes from just 2018, the idea of “clarifying coordination” has come up probably 5+ times. Thus, it’s something that has been on my mind an awful lot. This won’t come as any shock or surprise with me being true to a more ecological dynamically-minded lens, but I personally feel as though the only way to really dive into the idea of coordination is to view it from a systems perspective (it occurring between and within components and levels of systems). So, though we can talk about coordination between the component parts of the motor system and it’s subsystems (muscles, joints, connective tissue, etc), and often that’s a key factor of consideration for not only those in biomechanics but also some in motor control, that is not really what it is about and should be limited to when we really investigate all aspects of motor behavior at a multi-level especially in sport…so, I think to myself, what exactly are we coordinating? And what exactly are we coordinating in response to (or with)?
Thus, to me, coordination is: 1) how the human movement system maintains functional (i.e. purposeful) contact with a particular problem it intends to solve AND 2) how the various component parts of the human movement system (as a complex, adaptive system with self-organization properties) assemble & integrate into a behavioral unit during that goal directed activity (to solve the problem).
A key to this, as Stu said in his definition, is that coordination is emergent…and it (the coordination and the control of the movement solution) is self-organizing based on how the constraints at-hand are interacting (organism-task-environment). In this way then, movement coordination for the organism has component processes that are constantly interacting with circular causality occurring at sensory-perceptual, cognitive, and motor levels. Meaning, no matter the task, I believe coordination is the human movement system’s organizational product from how it connects movement to information and action to perception (hence I tried to simplify this for people by always talking about the 3B’s of movement skill…it actually could have been about the 3B’s of movement coordination). People will say, how is it that I am not talking much about degrees of freedom in my definition when it was my hero’s ‘problem’, well, when we think about what I just brought up from a systems-standpoint, I really am…it’s just that I strongly believe we as a movement community must start discussing the harnessing of the degrees of freedom at the perceptual and cognitive level as much as we talk about it at a motor/biomechanical level. Additionally, getting a little deeper, coordination (or coordinative structures or coordination solutions) has attractor states which give it stability as well as fluctuations which allow it (the solution) to be flexible depending on the control needed.
Now, onto Stu’s question for me (especially knowing how often I talk about dexterity being the hallmark characteristic of masterful movers), how does coordination differ from dexterity? Well, for a reminder, Bernstein claimed that dexterity is, “the ability to find a movement solution for ANY external situation…that is to adequately solve ANY emerging movement problem correctly, quickly, rationally, and resourcefully” (‘Dexterity & It’s Development’). The key difference between coordination and dexterity lies in the word I capitalized there – ANY.
As Bernstein so often noted throughout this works, the demand for dexterity is not in the movements themselves but in adapting to changes within the surrounding environment. So, if the environment and task is more dynamic (in that it is changing more frequently or across a higher bandwidth), the demand for dexterity is inherently higher. Thus, though dexterity and coordination (or possessing high levels of coordinative skill) are interconnected, they are not two in the same because for the dexterity to be displayed, it will most often relate to both degeneracy/abundance (variability in the coordination modes utilized) as well as adaptability (employment of precise controllability & adjustability needed…Bernstein called it switchability & maneuverability) when in an individual is adapting to both changing internal and external demands. Meaning, the individual can easily and effectively adjust the movement solution (at both the coordination level and the control level) according to various, changing constraints. In this way, a sprinter could have much higher levels of coordination (based on how he solves the respective problems for his task/environment which has higher amounts of stability within it) than an NFL player…but the NFL player would have higher levels of dexterity (b/c of what each of their respective organism-environment interactions consists of).
All in all, like I said, this should’ve been an easier task than it made itself out to be (or I made it more complicated than I needed to). I think the whole issue at-hand when we discuss being able to define coordination is to understand how we can facilitate the emergence of coordination/control for our individuals more effectively…especially if we believe that it is context-dependent & task-specific, and if we believe that it depends on the state of the system at that moment in time…meaning, how do we ensure that we assist the individual’s coordination solutions which emerge to be more functional to the tasks that they must solve?
Awesome stuff Shawn! I wrote some brief thoughts on dexterity and Bernie last year. I mistakenly conflated dexterity with coordination - and as Shawn wrote above, they are related - but not the same, so I will need to revisit this short piece below:
The motor capacity that Bernstein valued over everything else was dexterity. Defined as the ability to discover a motor solution for any given external situation, Bernstein felt that dexterity was more important than strength, speed, and endurance.
As previously discussed, as more traditional loading parameters reach a level of diminishing returns, and the more elite the athlete, dexterity (or coordination) plays an increasingly important role. It is the most coordinated that reach the highest levels within sport - not (normally) the most powerful.
Bernstein opined that the ability to solve a motor puzzle …
- correctly (accurately),
- rationally (economically), and
… is the key to efficient movement. This encapsulates Bernstein’s central tenets, including the role of action-intention and the variability within both the movement and the task conditions.
What is left out of Shawn’s notes above is something we discussed afterwards - and was a part of my own definition. That coordination has to be seen as inter- as well as intra-. As Shawn continued in a later response:
“Yes I completely agree with you. That aspect of interpersonal coordination is a topic at least being explored more lately in ecological dynamics (performer-environment scale of analysis, shared affordances, etc) since the Nonlinear Pedagogy book was released in 2016”
One question this brings to mind then is not only how coordination and dexterity differ, but where does entrainment fit in?
A reminder of what entrainment is:
“The term ‘entrainment’ refers to the process by which independent rhythmical systems interact with each other. ‘Independent rhythmical systems’ can be of many types: what they have in common is some form of oscillatory activity (usually periodic or quasi-periodic in nature); they must be independent in the sense of ‘self-sustaining’, i.e. able to be sustained whether or not they are entrained to other rhythmical systems.” - Clayton
This is a very deep rabbit hole …
THE FINAL WORD
“You don't stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” - George Bernard Shaw