As coaches, communication is key when it comes to developing athletes. Just as we work on improving our training methods and techniques, we must also make sure that we are taking time to improve our communication skills in order to make sure we are getting the most out of our athletes.
Becoming Familiar with the Science
The graph below shows the many levels of communication between a coach and an athlete. It develops from Unconscious Incompetence to Unconscious Competence. It demonstrates where different coaches can fall when developing an athlete and gives a better understanding of where they should be.
The Anatomy of Coaching Communication
You can think of this as a pyramid where the first step, and often the most important one, is on the bottom and the last step or the top of the pyramid brings all the concepts together.
Step 1 is building an optimal learning environment. This should not be over complicated but should also not be overlooked. You want to build a welcoming environment that athletes will want to train in and be motivated by. It can come from things like, having a well-lit facility, the music that is played and greeting the athletes as they walk through your doors.
Step 2 is providing optimal instruction. Every person is different so it’s important that we address people in a manner that works best for them and based on their personality or learning style. Are they extroverts, or introverts? Are they audio or visual learners?
Step 3 is optimal feedback. How do some people handle feedback or criticism? Some people prefer you give it to them away from others while some are motivated by the group feedback. These steps are crucial to building that welcoming environment that any athlete can appreciate.
Developing attention span and memory are two of the most important aspects of being a coach. We need to make things more direct in order to not overload the athlete with information. Studies have shown that short-term memory is very limited, but long-term memory is infinite. Therefore, the more impactful or significant an event is, the more likely it will be remembered.
Understanding Practical Application
Internal vs. external cues is a huge debate in the world of fitness. Studies have shown that verbal internal cueing can increase muscle activity (Lewis & Sahrmann, 2009).
External cues can help individuals reach that unconscious competence that was mentioned before. Attention focus is something any athlete must practice in order to be successful. One concept, the constrained-action hypothesis, suggests that an internal attention focus could be negative on an athlete, causing them to interfere with their body’s natural movement.
Internal Cues are best used for:
– Single-joint movement
– Quick Fix
– Positional Set Up
External Cues are best used for:
– High Force Output
– Group Setting
Relating it to PSS and Athletes
When it comes to applying this information to our athletes it’s important that we make things as simple as possible. Context is king. Being able to provide context on a movement will greatly assist an individual in their training. New information is learned best if consumed through a mechanism we already know. The chart below demonstrates how to apply context and internal/external cues to a possible error that an athlete is doing during an acceleration session.
In order to get the best out of an athlete, we must be able to have open and clear communication with them. Using proper cues and proving a welcoming environment are crucial to their success. A combination of context and internal and external cues, can make a major difference in how an athlete performs during their training.
About the Author
Casey Lee is the Director of Fitness and Performance at The Edge in northern Vermont. The Edge has been with the Parisi network since 2011 and Casey has been there for every step of the way. Coaching from Jump Start to Olympic hopefuls, Casey has utilized every educational offering Parisi has given over the last decade. Parisi’s education has helped ensure his facilities longevity as well as the career success for himself and every Performance Coach on staff.