“Mr. Alexander has done a service to the subject by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual… To take a step is an affair not of this or that limb solely, but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment.”
– from “The Endeavour of Jean Fernel” by Sir Charles Sherrington, Nobel Prize winner in medicine (1932).
In sporting clashes it’s often said that a champion team will beat a team of champions. This saying appears as far back as 1911, when The Advertiser in Adelaide, South Australia reported: “Norwood have some good men among their newcomers, but they intend to rely largely upon the fact that a champion team is better than a team of champions, and they will devote themselves to the construction of a perfect system”. The idea, of course, is that team sports don’t just require brilliant individuals; they require those individuals to work together in a co-ordinated way to produce something more effective than they could on their own.
Co-ordination is something we all require to get us through our day. It may be in a seemingly simple situation, such as getting a glass of water to your mouth. Or it may be more complex, such as playing piano, running, or carrying a toddler. But in all of these situations, co-ordination is required, and the better the co-ordination the more successful you’ll be.
The parts and the whole
Playing piano requires a high degree of control with the fingers. But to focus only on the fingers is to miss the bigger picture – playing piano is an affair not of the fingers only, but of the whole mind and body. Tense legs will lead to tension in the torso, which will limit the freedom in the arms and hands. And anxiety about wrong notes will restrict breathing, which will in turn affect the ease of playing. Working solely on finger exercises without realising their place in the whole ‘team’ may lead to some success, but this success will be limited by the lack of co-ordination as a whole.
Control requires co-ordination
This applies to most things we do. You may have the arm of Popeye, but carrying a child will still be best done when the arm and shoulder aren’t used in an isolated way. And good running requires more than powerful legs – they need to work together with the rest of the body to make the most efficient style. The same goes for driving a car, hanging out the washing, or clicking a mouse. These may involve specific parts of our body working in a specific way, but the parts are always dependent on the “team” to support them.
A champion team full of champions
Of course ideally, you’ll have a team of champions working as a champion team – the dextrous fingers or the strong running legs supported by the co-ordinated whole. You’ll have Jonathon Thurston playing with the Queensland State of Origin team, and the effectiveness of this will be obvious, and most enjoyable to some of us.
I’m not sure how Norwood fared back in 1911. It sounds like they didn’t have many great players, but they did have a plan – to “devote themselves to the construction of a perfect system”. And surely that’s what we should all have, – a plan to construct, if not the perfect system, then at least a pretty good one. So we can be co-ordinated, and so be more effective, in everything we do.