Another look at skill?
By Geof Gleeson, Former BJA National Coach and British Team Captain
Sport can of course be treated for what it is, a trivial
activity that wastes the time between the more important events in
one's life. Something to do when no other more worthwhile activity
can be found. Or sport can be seen as a metaphor for life-living...
That I feel has some attraction as it gives the mind an opportunity to
use its imagination and thereby stump up some stimulating
thoughts about why and how we should spend serious time in
So I want to write a few hundred words on metaphor-sport
and leave time-waste-sport to those organisations that are
more competent than I to deal with it.
Such organisations do an excellent job. They make the trivial
appear important, which it is, and they generate glorious images
of stability in the confused process of skill acquisition. They give
the young people, those most concerned in the business of skill
performance, the confidence to believe that all they have to do is
what the priest of performance, the coach, tells them to do and
they will achieve all they desire. Armed in that way, they will be
able to face this plastic world of ours with pusillanimous
What is skill? Skill in sport? Thirty years ago to find the answer
you would have gone to Knapp's "Skill in Sport."
"Skill is the learned ability to bring about predetermined results
with maximum certainty, often with the minimum outlay of time
or energy or both."
Twenty years ago I wrote:
"Skill is the application and therefore the adaptation of
technique to an ever-differing situation;..."
'Judo Inside out'
Possibly the 'time-wasters' still use these, or something much
like them, as for the skill it is all to do with teleology (purpose,
winning, in the future) but in this age of 'chaos theory' and the
'law of adequacy' when teleology is taking something of a
bashing, an alternative view may be worthwhile looking at?
Adopting, temporarily, an anthropological stance, while looking
at the nurturing of life skills, there would seem to be two
general recorded ways that are of interest to us:
1. To associate ritual and technique.
Ritual here meaning the arrangement of sequential movement to
give meaning to decision making: technique is a set of
sequential movements to provide purpose for action. By
adulterating one with the other, it is hoped that understanding
2. To maintain the nearness of object and subject; to avoid these
two elements drifting too far apart and thereby causing anarchy
in the soul of man. Usually this is done through what is called
religion, but of course there are other ways.
Metaphor-sport uses both frequently, yet even so not always
with understanding. That is because the propaganda of trivial
sport confuses the purpose of metaphor-sport. Trivial sport sees
ritual as being meaningless - which it is, if promulgated by inert
minds - and sees technique as being equated with effectiveness,
which is not true if it is merely a formula for bullshit!
In metaphor-sport ritual should be used for stability, for
discovering meaning through discipline; technique is an
organised response to a paradoxical reality, while the
reconciliation of object and subject is the maintaining of the
integrity of intent or skill development via spontaneous
Talking about paradox we need to mention logic. Logic is the
great weapon of the Establishment, it's the tool that bludgeons
the people into not thinking for themselves - it's the purpose of
all Establishment ideological campaigns. Logic is to do with
cause on effect, the principle of which states that one cause
produces one effect. The Establishment decides on the effect,
manufactures the cause, tells the people what that cause is and
then asks them what the effect is - knowing all the time what it
In such organisations as religion, it is the Church that decides
the cause, in time-waste sport it is the coach. In that sort of
sport the coach then appears to give the trainee the choice of
effect: that's the con - there is no choice! The coach's cause has
already decided the effect.
In metaphor-sport the performer is taught paradox performance
because life IS paradoxical (it certainly has nothing to do with
logic!) For example, whatever may appear to be a tactical
solution of a skill problem the opposite is equally valid - as will
other solutions be. The coach's job in metaphor-sport is to point
out the paradox and then encourage the performer to provide
his own personal solution - which is a matter of spontaneous
Here is where we discover the difficulty of spontaneous
creativity; It is of course an essential factor in skill development,
yet it is not spontaneous, nor is it creative if we mean by
creativity, to make something out of nothing. Perhaps we can
get at the meaning by going round the mulberry bush. Some of
the French philosophers - people like Ricoeur, suggest that
metonymy and synecdoche are essential ingredients in creative
thinking, through the agency of metaphor.
He writes - "Thus the status of the image is established by a
proof a 'contrario', through the interconnection between
conceptual atomisation, spatial dispersion and pragmatic
interest. So too, the superiority of image over concept, the
priority of individual temporal flux over space and the
disinterestedness of the vision turned towards life's concerns are
to be restored together. And it is a philosophy of life that the
pact between image, time and contemplation is sealed." page
250 "The Rule of Metaphor."
We can see here how philosophy can contribute directly to
coaching. "Conceptual atomisation" is analysis (of skills)
"spatial dispersion" (an essential element in any skill
development, but seldom spoken about in time-waste-sport)
and "pragmatic interest" is the creation of skill-supplementary
imagery. An artist, whatever form he comes in, must have a
pool, a storehouse of imagery that will guide his thinking. An
image of juxtaposed object and subject - where the object is the
intention (of skill), the subject being the potentiality of skill.
Knowledge that can be instantaneously related to the 'now
problem' for solution. Where can those images be acquired?
Here are a few sources:
From myth: myth is the label, given to the learning process
generated by the interaction between ritual and technique (not
the myth of Victorian Imperialism, but of the myth of Eliade and
From rhetoric: not that of the demagogue but of the
pre~Socratics, such as Heraclitus and Anaximander. They were
'royal' sceptics, the original deconstructionalists!
From aesthetics: the time-wasters advocate 'model-copying' for
skill improvement of course there is some validity in such
superficial advocacy, but without wasting more time on such a
banal piece of ill-considered advice, how is the model to be
superceded? (I assume the model is not perfect)
Aesthetic learning can come from UNDERSTANDING what is
needed (to improve) combined with an ability to create the kind
of 'new' (non~experienced) situation that is to be met (in the
future) but must be solved now.
Aesthetics is about the understanding of beauty (and therefore
of ugliness). It is of interest to read in Eco's book, "Art and
Beauty in the Middle Ages" that some medieval philosophers
(e.g. Alexander of Hales) not only equated beauty with the good
- only to be expected when good was God - but also linked it
with form and action. Indeed John Scotus (1266 -1308) raised it
(good) with the matter of harmony, the effective functioning of
parts, "within a whole", as an aspect of what he saw as beauty.
Here there is a point of contiguity with Japanese aesthetics,
which can benefit the metaphor-sport coach. It suggests there
are three principles for beauty and effectiveness (the Japanese
have a word for that - wabi); they are harmony, ephemerality
sight of these qualities; they are very useful for the skillprogramme.
The metaphor-sport coach recognises mysterymeaning
he will never fully understand skill; he recognises
ephemerality, for skill is writing on water; no two skills are the
same, even when they are intended to be the same, and
harmony is the effective working together of ALL parts - which
includes morality, (more about that later).
It can be a beneficial experience for those interested in the
aesthetics of performance to experiment with drawing and
painting. Through such a medium of skill-performance, a direct
understanding of form, harmony, mystery, ephemerality and the
objectivity of space interacting with the subjectivity of body
(matter) can be transferred directly to gross-physical dynamics.
The work of Henry Moore can be illuminating here. By studying
also the works of Raphael, the Futurists, the Macdonald-Wright
'school' and the recent paintings of Ei-kyu in Japan, an
understanding of abstract dynamics can be acquired and also
transferred to the business of skill analysis.
Should (sport) skill be moral? There is much vociferous
declamation on this subject in sport. I have heard one timewaste
coach hypocritically announce 'if sport is not moral, it is
not sport'; an admirable sentiment. I should like to agree, but is
there any truth in it? In spite of the many who discuss morals in
sport, no one (that I have heard) has volunteered a definition.
Apparently it is assumed that everyone knows precisely what
morals mean and therefore there is no need to define. In fact,
very few if any, in my experience could offer a generally
accepted definition. A few months ago I gave myself a short
course on morality; I began with Aristotle, worked my way
through the medieval thinkers, Aquinas, Augustine, with a brief
diversion into Avicenna (an Arab, Aristotlian metaphysician, who
saw morals as an extension of being. I was surprised incidentally
how similar he was to Heidegger) then - right up to Iris
Murdoch, 'Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals' - I thought all
sports coaches ought to read that. Halfway through my course I
thought I had morals buttoned up; it was all to do with the
protection and benefit of society, but later on doubt began to
seep in. I began to wonder not only about the nature of morality,
but about its purpose too. Whilst on holiday I read much of
Nietzsche and to my pleasure he threw me many a life line. (He
is by the way, the philosopher for the metaphor-sport coach). For
example, he made the point there is not A morality, any more
than there is A strength; just as you need specific strength for a
specific job, so you need a specific morality for a specific
purpose. In short morality is dependent on intent. But Nietzsche
being who he was does not provide any 'ready-mades'. He left
me with quite an enigma. I asked myself, 'is the intent to be
immoral, moral?' If morality is to do with the defence and
benefit of the group, is time-waste sport the epitomy of groupmorality?
Is group-morality justice orientated or expediency
orientated? Justice is concerned with equality of treatment,
irrespective of the ultimate intent, whereas expediency is to do
with the achievement of intent, irrespective of individual
consideration. How do these orientations relate to time-waste
sport and metaphor-sport? It seems evident to me that timewaste
sport morality is expediency orientated, because its intent
is quite specific, to win, whereas metaphor-sport morality is
justice-orientated because life-living is more important than
winning. It is very important that the sports coach gets these
two moralities clear in his mind, for his choice of one rather than
the other will fundamentally affect his coaching philosophy.
Expediency-orientated morality will allow, for example, drug
taking; justice-orientated morality will not. (It would not be just
to allow only one or two competitors to take drugs) But then
Nietzsche comes back into the discussion with a bang. He says,
the 'enlightened' man must be immoral! By this, what he means
is that he must not accept group morality, because of its
traditional inert thinking. He must replace that with his own
personal morality - which Nietzsche calls 'virtue', which is a far
stricter code of behavior than found in any group-morality.
To develop that kind of dominant virtue, 'enlightened' man must
undergo a strict form of mental and physical discipline. To
structure such a discipline will need to be done by an intellectual
process that will seek practical metaphors. Such metaphors
could be found in metaphor-sport.
DOUMA, Yacine (FRA)
UNGVARI Miklos (HUN)
LARYUKOV, Anatoly (BLR)
UZNADZE, Irakli (TUR)
GREKOV, Valentyn (UKR)
VAN DER GEEST, Elco (NED)
TMENOV, Tamerlan (RUS)
VAN DER GEEST, Dennis (NED)
JOSSINET, Frédérique (FRA)
SINGLETON, Georgina (GBR)
CAVAZZUTI, Cinzia (ITA)
DECOSSE, Lucie (FRA)
DADCI, Adriana (POL)
LEBRUN Celine (FRA)
KÖPPEN, Sandra (GER)
GERBER Katja (GER)