Don’t Copy & Paste: Part 2 by Matt Hunter


[Matt Hunter is a recent graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and is currently enrolled in the Athletic Lab Coach Apprenticseship Program]

In Part One, I spoke about considerations for program design. With a program now written, the critical success factor is execution. Both coaches and athletes must do their part to optimally execute the plan. To best convey information as coaches, we need to know what our athletes respond to, how they think, how they learn, and who they are. I think of coaching as teaching. To best teach athletes new skills, we must understand who they are.

One valuable piece of information to learn is what style of learner each individual athlete is. Many athletes are visual learners, so when working with a group of athletes, using demonstrations can be extremely effective. I have seen a coach who only spoke English teach a group who only spoke Portuguese how to power clean in one session exclusively by using visual cues through repeated and directed demonstrations of the movement. But if there is no language barrier, then using auditory cues can be another useful style of coaching. Finally, is the kinesthetic aspect of learning. An example with the power clean can be keeping the back flat. This can be a hard concept for many athletes to grasp initially. Some athletes will respond to an auditory cue of saying, “keep your back flat” or “shoulders back”, while some will need that supplemented with a visual demonstration. Still, others will not get it. They may need to be physically placed in that position in order to understand what it is suppose to feel like. Taking their shoulders and placing them into position, and then guiding them through the hip hinge portion of the power clean may be necessary. A quick word of warning is to be careful when touching an athlete who may not be comfortable with you doing so. Establishing a good rapport with them first can help build trust so they feel comfortable. If you are a male coach, be particularly careful with female athletes for obvious reasons. In general use common sense. And be confidant (not creepy) if you choose to do this.

Now any coach can tell stories of athletes who just couldn’t figure it out. No matter how many times they explained it, or how many times they showed them, they just couldn’t get it. Well this is when knowing our athletes is most important. Many coaches use the same cues with all their athletes in the same way every time. This may work wonders for some, but for those who don’t get it they will need something different. What type of learner are they? Say they have done well in the past with visual and auditory cues- target those. Demonstrate not just in the one way that is your go to method, but find new ways that may make more sense to them. Use different auditory cues that may “click” better with them than what you have been using.

The longer we have the chance to get to know an athlete, the better we can individualize how we coach them. Equally important to knowing how to coach them is also knowing when to coach them; or when not to coach them. A prime example of this was just last week at Athletic Lab. I was watching John Grace coach the weightlifting team and there was an experienced lifter becoming frustrated while having a poor day on the snatch. I was initially surprised when John stopped coaching him between sets, but understood when John explained that when this particular athlete has a bad day, the best thing for him is to leave him to work it out himself. At the beginning of the session John had already given him technical points to focus on, and he knew that nothing else he said while this athlete was frustrated was going to be of any benefit. A different athlete may have needed John to step in and help them, but the only way we as coaches would know that is by making the effort to understand our athletes and tailor our coaching accordingly.