In addition to having fun, young athletes should focus on learning new skills to improve their game performance. But for developing athletes, mastering unfamiliar techniques can be frustrating. Plus, coaches often struggle when offering helpful pointers to their players. If you’re facing a similar situation, either as a coach or a young athlete, here are three sports psychology tips to aid in teaching or learning a new skill.
To maintain focus on the technical aspects of a skill, develop a set of cue words. These are short reminder words that can be repeated during practices and games. For example, if a hockey goalie is working on positioning, he can repeat the cue words “Stick down, square chest, glove up” whenever he lines up to face a shot. Coaches, make sure you thoroughly explain what each cue word represents. Cue words should always give a positive direction.
Having to remember too many words can be difficult. Start slowly and change the words only after the task at hand has been mastered.
Athletes tend to respond better to visual learning, which makes modeling a very effective technique for skill development. However, some sports are easier to model than others. For example, high level compulsory skills in gymnastics are extremely challenging for coaches to model. But both coaches and athletes can find lots of online videos that effectively demonstrate technique. Do your homework though! Make sure the skills being modeled in the video you select are being performed correctly.
Using a combination of cue words and modeling as guidance, create a mental image of yourself performing the skill perfectly. Engage as many senses as possible. Coaches, ask your athletes what sounds they hear, how their bodies feel, what they see and even perhaps what they smell. Make the mental rehearsal as realistic as possible. This makes it easier for the brain to store an image of proper execution of the skill. Mental rehearsal is just as important as physical rehearsal. So make room in the practice schedule or assign it as homework.
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