Cueing & Bashing Your Head Against the Wall

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Technical errors occur quite frequently in sport. Determining those errors in a matter of a split second is the hard part. Relaying those errors to an athlete in a way that elicits change in technique is arguably the hardest.

If you don’t recognize how to prompt change you’ll end up bashing your head against the wall wondering why your cues aren’t working.

Athlete Constraints

It may not come down to what you’re saying or how you’re saying it at all. The athlete just may not be capable of a new technique or style based on strength, mobility, or anthropometry. Beginning weightlifters that don’t have the requisite mobility may fully understand what the proper starting position should look like, but their lack of mobility prevents them from achieving it. No amount of cueing can help this issue. Your best bet is to trace back and fix whatever are causing these technical constraints. If these constraints are severely limiting, you end up ingraining some serious bad habits that will become increasingly difficult to change.

Athlete Comprehension

A lack of comprehension from an athlete may come in many different forms. The most common one to be concerned with is the athlete not understanding how complete the task or part of the task. This is where cueing is essential. Use terminology that the athlete can understand. Most athletes don’t understand the long-winded technical explanations. In fact, it generally confuses them even further. Be concise with your feedback. If you can cue them it in two words, don’t use five. Make sure the athlete understands the feedback and can use it to their advantage.

Athlete Response

The athlete must be able to quickly and effectively respond with the correct technique. Hick’s Law states that any time there are more choices present, it will take the individual longer to make a decision. By limiting choices the athlete has, they can more effectively select the correct choice.

The athlete may also simply forget what you tell them. Make sure you lay out expectations clearly and relay what you’re trying to get them to do. Ask them what they will focus on or try to get them to recall the choices you want them to make.

Athlete Execution

Athlete errors can potentially come from nueromuscular coordination. They simply have not had enough time practicing the task. In this case more practice can be of benefit. Likewise, when an athlete is trying to change technique from a poorly acquired skill, errors may become present. It becomes difficult when the athlete is trying to replace an existing technique with a new technique. Typically, even more difficult than initially learning the task. If you’re trying to change technique, there will most likely be a period where your athletes get worse before they get better as the new technique interferes with the old technique

If there are multiple errors present, focus on correcting the one or two errors that have the potential to make the biggest improvements in performance.

@mikeyoung on correcting errors: If it comes down to having a knife in your chest and a papercut on your finger… take the knife out first.

Don’t try to correct more than one or two at a time. Again, the more feedback and choices you give your athlete, the high potential for more mistakes to be made. You also have to ask yourself is the error worth correcting. Will the athlete benefit by making the change. Of course there are technical models to reference, but they are models. There are commonalities that most elite athletes show within a given sport. Aim to be great at the common factors between them, not the subtle details that just one Olympic champion displays.

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

@john_r_grace

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