Any strength and conditioning coach can send an athlete through drills that address speed, power and agility. But it’s harder to break through with a young athlete who has never heard of proper running form, or to teach Jumping Jacks to someone who can’t coordinate the motion naturally.
Coaches need to do more than learn the latest ladder drills and Push-Up variations. They need to spend time improving their coaching methods and delivery.
Three simple, but effective, techniques to improve the way, you coach.
Communicate and Connect
When working with new athletes, it’s important to establish a connection and show them they are going to become better every time they work with you, not just be put through a tough workout.
To achieve this, you first have to talk to your athletes to determine why they are training and why they have come to you for help. It may be a simple lack of self-motivation, a desire for an additional edge over the competition, or a desperate cry for help in the emotional struggle toward “ideal” body composition.
Knowing where your athletes are coming from and where they would like to go allows you to plan the best course of action, respond appropriately to setbacks and individualize not only your programming but your approach.
Once you establish this initial connection, it’s important to maintain communication by educating the athletes as you continue your progression. Engage each athlete during training sessions and educate him or her about the purpose of certain exercises—which muscles are being worked, how the exercise prevents injury, and why you are adjusting the weight or changing the standard rep scheme.
Most athletes know how a Plank feels, but some may be doing it incorrectly without knowing how to adjust. Simple questions can aid your visual assessments and allow you to make more effective corrections. Consider other discussions, like what they should expect to feel over the next couple of days, and always preview your plan of attack for the next session and the near future. Doing so gives your athletes a palpable vision of their climb toward their goals, demonstrates your expertise and shows you are committed to and invested in them.
Athletes Learning Style
Athletes come in all shapes, sizes and learning styles that require unique approaches. Visual learners adapt to what they see around them and generally respond well to a quick demonstration of an exercise or drill. Auditory learners profit from verbal cues or descriptions of the tasks at hand. Somatosensory learners require a hands-on approach, so you might have to physically move an athlete’s arms through a motion or even tap a certain muscle you are attempting to activate.
It is generally best to take a multifaceted approach to a new athlete until you learn which delivery style they respond to best. This can be accomplished simply by demonstrating an exercise while discussing what you are doing and how to perform it, then following up with a physically guided approach as the athlete performs it for the first time.
In large groups, assume there are different learning styles within the group and engage all styles by demonstrating and cuing, before floating among the athletes to provide individual assessments and corrections. Some athletes are more independent in their learning style and perform well after seeing, hearing or feeling the cue one time, whereas others may need more maintenance as they progress.
Coaching Cues that Get Results
A “cue” is a command or instruction that serves to improve the quality of an athlete’s performance of a specific drill or exercise. You may use cues when describing the exercise initially, addressing common errors and questions, or after assessment to provide a correction.
A cue can be as simple as “hips back and down” when squatting or “breathe out forcefully” during core stability exercises or through sticking points. Sometime, however, a simple cue doesn’t get the desired result. You can tell athletes time and time again that they need to land softer on a box or after a plyometric, yet you continue to be greeted by the familiar thud of a stiff landing.
Address these athletes with a metaphorical comparison that paints a picture in their heads so clear they cannot fail to recognize it. For the landing mechanics example, have the athletes envision their brand new iPads face up on the ground right where they have to land. Instruct them to land on it without shattering the screen. Before you know it, they begin to use their muscles as shock absorbers, and their knees are protected with a stealth-like landing that would draw envy from the most agile ninja.
Plan visual metaphors for your exercises and drills to address common mistakes. This will lead to more efficient training sessions and greater retention of correct performance.