Edition No. 31. Summer, 2002. Today is

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 sport.

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 rectitude.

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 will emerge.

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 creativity.

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 will be.

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 creativity.

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 Zen.)

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.

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European Championships 2002



DOUMA, Yacine (FRA)




GREKOV, Valentyn (UKR)


TMENOV, Tamerlan (RUS)




JOSSINET, Frédérique (FRA)




DADCI, Adriana (POL)


KÖPPEN, Sandra (GER)


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