It’s a big dance

Every sport skill has a basic technical model that a beginner can master in a relatively short time. What is the difference then from that and the master – the Roger Federer in tennis, Usain Bolt in sprinting, Simone Biles in gymnastics or Michael Phelps in the pool? What makes them masters of their craft? Certainly, they have refined technique, that is a given. The longer I coach and the more I reflect on this I am convinced it is rhythm and tempo.

Like great musicians it is the space between the notes that makes the music special. Like great authors it is the choice of words and punctuation or lack thereof that distinguishes their work. Great athletic movement is a highly choreographed dance with effortless control characterized by rhythm, flow and smooth connections seemingly without tension. Often it is not as apparent to the untrained eye. When you are in proximity whether it is the court, pool or track you can feel it, you can hear it – it is special.

The question for me always has been, can you coach it or is it just a gift that these great ones have? I like to think you can coach it to a degree. It all starts with how these skills are taught. Too often we take a young athlete and try to fit them into a mold instead of letting them explore and feel the movement. Let them experiment and forget about getting it right, instead work on getting a feel. You don’t teach running mechanics, instead you make it a game, a dance, an exploration of how the body moves. It may look messy and chaotic at first, but it will quickly smooth out. It’s all just a big dance.

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