The Learning Curve


A little over a month ago, I was lucky enough to attend the USA Track & Field Level 1 Certification with some of the best coaches in the United States in their respective fields: Loren Seagrave, Andrew Allden, and Larry Judge. All of these coaches have produced multiple All-Americans, National Champions, and Olympians. The three had very different teaching styles and different strategies to communicate. With this, certain coaches were easier to understand than others. As coaches, we all have different styles, but not every athlete learns the same way. Coaches need to have different tools in their proverbial belt to teach different athletes.

There are three common ways to learn in sports: auditory, visually, and kinesthetically. Auditory learners learn best by listening, visual by watching and kinesthetic by doing. Athletes are generally visual learners. Athletes prefer to see a movement completed so it can be processed before their attempt. The most effective way to do this is to use the whole-part-whole method. Demonstrate the exercise as a whole, break it down into manageable segments; bring those segments back together to perform the whole movement. If done correctly, this can be a very successful technique to use.What if the athlete isn’t a visual learner? This is where experience and excellent coaching come into play. The coach needs to be able to give verbal cues to the athlete. Verbal cues are one or two words that can help obtain a certain motor response from the athlete. In the power clean start position you should have your shoulders back, chest straight ahead, and lower back slightly arched. To many athletes, this may seem like information overload. A much more effective way to attain this position is to tell the athlete to get into “silverback gorilla position”. An effective cue can teach the athlete without overloading them with technical information that they may not understand.

As a coach, you need to understand how your athlete learns to coach them more effectively. This may take some time as the coach and athlete develop a relationship, but can improve training quality once the athlete and coach are not only on the same page, but on the same sentence.

John Grace

John Grace

Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab
John is a Sport Performance Coach at Athletic Lab. He earned his Master's degree from Ohio University in Coaching & Sport Science. John holds his CSCS, USAW-L1, and USATF-L1. He is the former Assistant Fitness Coach of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
John Grace


Performance Coach | @ChicagoFire | I tweet about all things sport science, coaching, training, and athlete development.
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