Improving Coordination

by Rodger Bailey on August 24, 2011 · 2 comments

in Technique

For most of us, coordination is something innate and we don’t believe it is possible to improve it. Let’s look at coordination and see what new concepts and what kind of training is available for it.

Hand-Eye Coordination

We have experienced an evolution in our concepts of coordination. I remember first reading about hand-eye coordination three decades ago. This was the idea that explored the relationship between what we saw and what action we were able to take as a result. So, this concept talked about seeing the ball and being able to take a swing and hitting the ball. It was a very good concept for helping us understand that there was a relationship between what we saw and what actions we could take because of it.

Rhythm and Timing

The latest ideas about coordination are based in the concepts of rhythm and timing. This concept gets us a little deeper into the relationships between our brain circuits and the rest of our body. This concept explores timing circuits in our brain and how they relate to our muscles, our sensory mechanisms, and our perceptions.

It looks at something called “motor sequencing and planning.” Basically, our coordination is about which muscles are fired off, in which sequence, to achieve some action. Coordination happens when those muscles are contracted and relaxed in the proper form at the proper time. I know that this all sounds very complex, and in reality it is incredibly complex. But, we don’t have to know exactly which brain cell or which nerve path, or which muscle gets involved with these actions. All we need to do is swing the racket and hit the ball where we want it to go.

What are Rhythm And Timing?

Timing is about the action happening at the appropriate moment to achieve the outcome. In a tennis serve, if the athlete hits the ball too early, the ball will go beyond the line and if the athlete hits the ball too late the ball will hit the net. Timing is about hitting the ball at the right time.

We often hear broadcasters telling us that an athlete has lost their timing. They (and we) see this when the player starts making double faults and unforced errors. The athlete is not hitting the ball at the precise time needed, so the ball is not going to the appropriate place.

Rhythm is about the flow of events. For the highest level of performance, an athlete needs to recognize and enter the flow of the play (often referred to as the rhythm-of-the-game) and then match it or manage it. Roger Federer is a master at entering into the rhythm of the other player’s game, and then changing the rhythm and ‘confusing’ the other player, which causes the other player to make an unforced error. Broadcasters often refer to Roger “stealing” the other player’s rhythm.

Athletes with the highest capability in rhythm are able to enter any rhythm, can change their rhythm whenever they want, and are not confused when the rhythm changes. The most common problems in rhythm is inability to recognize and match the rhythm of the other player and the inability to maintain themselves steady in their own rhythm.

Scott Hamilton talks about an ice skater entering a jump for 3 revolutions and “popping-out” after only one revolution. I really like that term to describe what I see when an athlete loses their rhythm in the middle of their play. As they lose their rhythm, they stop their own flow of play. Maintaining a steady rhythm and adapting to the existing rhythm are essential for the highest level of play.

What Affects Rhythm And Timing?

Poor rhythm and timing can be improved with proper training. This training involves tens of thousands of reps of very simple exercises maintaining a precise rhythm. It involves testing to track improvement in rhythm and timing.

Good rhythm and timing can be reduced by a variety of things. Injury, surgery, and some illnesses can disrupt the timing relationships between brain circuits and muscles and this requires training to re-establish the proper timing relationships.

Improper diet, environmental toxins, and emotional or physical trauma can temporarily degrade rhythm and timing. These can be avoided with proper precautions or overcome with some mental and physical techniques.

Rhythm And Timing On The Tennis Court

Want to see your favorite tennis player testing and activating their good rhythm and timing? Watch the player prepare to serve the ball. Notice the bouncing they do before the serve? They are verifying their continued good rhythm and timing. If they cannot maintain a good rhythm in that bouncing and catching exercise, they will perform poorly in the next point.

The same goes for receiving a serve. The swaying back and forth is a way of verifying and activating their own good rhythm and timing. Some (like Juan Martin del Potro) even do a little dance to test and re-connect with their good rhythm and timing, when waiting for a serve.

Rhythm and Timing, So What?

From my perspective, Novak Djokovic is doing so well this year because his rhythm and timing are so precise. And, Roger Federer, James Blake, and Andy Roddick are players who could move up dramatically in the standings by improving their rhythm and timing.

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