One of the physical components of fitness that is often overlooked is coordination. Good coordination in sport (think badminton) can enhance your overall ability, as well as help prevent injuries.
Coordination is the delicate balance between multiple parts of your body, coming together to execute a command. For instance, Serena Williams in full thrust has to consider her speed and run, as well as eye and hand movements at the same time.
Mistaken for something you’re ‘born with’, coordination can actually be improved over time. However, this takes a certain tenacity, often seen with performance through changes in the nervous system.
In this section, we look closer at coordination and how we can test and improve our abilities.
What is coordination?
Coordination can have different meanings depending on context. It has been described as “the ability of people to execute and control their movements, which is imperative in order to throw a ball, hit a home run, or even kick a goal. In sports, coordination must occur between the eyes, hands, and feet.”
It is after all a complex skill that requires a gentle balance of other physical components of fitness.
Why is coordination important?
Coordination in sport is vital for overall physical ability. Physical balance is often ignored at the peril of athletes.
In many disciplines, including; gymnastics, skateboarding and surfing, coordination plays an important role in balance, which is essential for performance. In other sports, such as table tennis, tennis and shooting, coordination is essential for being on target.
In team sports, whether it’s netball, hockey or synchronised swimming, it plays an important part in development, performance and one’s overall fitness.
Research has found that although coordination plays an important role in most sports, hand-to-eye coordination is most vital in; baseball/softball, table tennis, tennis, squash and auto racing.
On an important note, having better balance also makes it easier to move around, which can help prevent injury in the long-term.
Testing your coordination
When it comes to testing coordination in sport, there’s a few different approaches you can take. It’s best to work with your sports coach to dedicate time to conducting a full examination. From here you can put a framework in place to develop and improve your output over time.
One of the simplest ways to conduct a coordination test is through the Stork Balance Stand Test. As the name suggests, this involves timing yourself standing on one leg. It’s important to try and maintain the position for as long as possible, at least for ten seconds. Your sports coach will help guide you through this, but try to keep your hands on your hips while in position. Complete this test three times, using your best score to go forward.
Typically, an ‘average’ score will come out between 25-39 seconds, while anything between 40-50 seconds is considered good. More important though is having a scale in which to improve on.
The Functional Reach Test assesses your balance as you lean forward with outstretched arms. Try and stretch as far as possible without falling. Using a measuring tape your sports coach will measure various points as part of the exercise. This will offer a functional reach score and range.
Another test you can try is the Tandem Stance Test. This involves putting your foot forward with the rest of your body upright, and hands by your side or on your hips. Try and hold this position for as long as possible, at least 30 seconds. Try and improve this score over time, with some of the exercises mentioned below.
Improving your coordination
There’s plenty of ways to improve coordination and balance. As with other exercises, these require dedication over time.
Core training: usually part of a training programme, all athletes can benefit from core training, since it can help with endurance and help prevent injuries. Gaining core strength can be achieved in various ways. Try Swiss ball crunches, side planks and leg raises as part of your everyday training. Work with your sports coach to develop a plan specific to your needs.
Yoga: great for overall tone, posture and balance, yoga is one of the most practiced disciplines with athletes of all kinds, with good reason. The more you invest in yoga, the more you will get out of it, however aim to incorporate it into your training programme at least once a week to start with. Certain poses will enhance balance and coordination.
Tai Chi: this Chinese tradition with a basis in martial arts, also uses breathing techniques to bring body and mind together. As well as improve balance and coordination, through its gentle honed movements, it has various other benefits such has improving mood and overall wellbeing.
Coordination is something we can all pay more attention to and improve over time. Although it’s one of the physical components of fitness, it’s often overlooked at the peril of the athlete.
Essential for performance, endurance, balance and preventing risk of injury, there are multiple benefits to improving your coordination. Better still, there’s a multitude of ways that we can improve coordination in sport from Tai Chi to ballet, and yoga to weightlifting. However, core strength training is one of the best ways that athletes can improve their overall performance and enhance coordination levels at the same time.
Whether an individual or team player, coordination will enhance your output and coordination enhancing techniques should be introduced into your training programme from the get go.