Coaching – The Science and the Art: Part 3

If you haven’t already ready the first two installments of Strength Coach Chris Sanchez’s epic post on the Science and Art of Coaching you can find them here. Coaching – The Science and the Art: Part 1, Coaching – The Science and the Art: Part 2

Here’s part 3…

External cues are great, but not every athlete learns the same way. Ones who respond to external cues in a snap might be auditory learners, meaning an explanation is all they really need to nail down the finer details of a lift. Others may not excel in learning this way (cue the visual learners!). As you might have guessed, visual learners need a clear visual representation of what is it they’re trying to learn. This is why you as a coach need to have your demonstration skills down pat. If you struggle to demonstrate an exercise with perfect form, some of your athletes will more than likely suffer in the learning process. Last but not least, some athletes learn kinesthetically, meaning they need to physically do something a few times and work out the kinks as they go. But any great coach will go ahead and address all these types of learners during a training session. When you only teach or coach with one of these methods, you’re doing your athletes and clients a disservice.

Now, there will be times (I guarantee it) where you run into athletes and clients where no matter how you teach, coach, or cue them, they will struggle to get an exercise down. Your magical external cues had no effect, your demonstration did no good, and your explanation was essentially worthless. Do you give up? Of course not! Here is where physical coaching cues come into play. (Note: there will be times where physical cues may be deemed inappropriate by athletes/clients. You as a coach need to use your best judgment as to when to use them.) Physical cues can be an excellent and immediate fix for problems during training. When you physically poke, prod, and adjust an athlete into what position you need them to be in, they will begin to actually feel what muscles need to fire and what movement patterns need to happen. Look at the plank. Many athletes will let their hips sink towards the floor when holding a plank causing a decent amount of lumbar extension. When you physically grab an athlete’s ASIS, or the bony part of their hip right at their waist, and lift their hips up while posteriorly tilting the pelvis, their position will immediately be fixed. All they have to do is replicate the same position or movement the next time they do that exercise. There are a wide variety of physical cues to be utilized during training. Poking someone’s stomach to get them to brace the abdominals, placing your fingertips on their spine and asking them to squeeze your fingers with their shoulder blades during a row, and placing a hand on the lower back to ensure extension during an RDL or deadlift are all great cues that help and athlete get through a lift the way it’s supposed to be done. Again, just to be safe, don’t be stupid and just go touching every athlete that lifts with you. There have been cases where physical cues were deemed inappropriate by clients (even if they were not meant to be) and because of it coaches have found themselves into some hot water. So don’t go touching someone’s butt just for the sake of making sure they’re squeezing it during a physioball rollout. Use common sense.

Last but not least, to really make the most of it and nail the ‘art’ of coaching, just be yourself! Don’t try to be someone you’re not. There are rah-rah coaches who are in your face and loud. If that works for you, go for it. If you’re more laid back and can motivate and coach your clients in a more quiet fashion, go for it. I’ve tried to coach as someone I’m not and it usually did not work out well. When I tried to force myself to be a loud, screaming, intense coach, the results were the same as when someone accidentally walks in on their parents…doing… things. IT’S AWKWARD. If you have to force your coaching style, stop and reassess what you’re doing. Being someone you’re not doesn’t work in real life and it doesn’t work with when you’re coaching either.

When someone is able to smoothly and evenly integrate the ‘science’ qualities with the ‘art’ qualities of coaching, great things can happen. It creates an atmosphere that optimizes learning, builds relationships, and creates an enjoyable experience for coaches and athletes alike. So take a look at yourself or your current coach and see if these two qualities are balanced out. If not, it may be time to try and work on whatever quality you lack or overdo. You’re athletes and clients will thank you and you’ll become a better coach in the process.


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