While we like to think of coaching and teaching as art forms, there is a distinct science to communicating for optimized motor learning. Communication starts by engaging clients in a way that ensures they are listening. Once we have their attention, we want to provide instructions, feedback or cues that focus the clients externally rather than internally. Further, we want to account for any physical limitations across position, pattern and power that could be limiting the effectiveness of our coaching. Finally, we need to consider how to individualize external cues by manipulating distance, direction and description. By systematically integrating these factors, we can develop evidenced-based platforms that enable us to express the art of coaching.

Clients’ physical abilities are an important factor to consider when evaluating the effectiveness of your communication. If a client cannot physically do what you’re requesting, it’s bound to cause frustration. To determine the limits on physical capacities, you must ask three questions:

  1. Does this client have enough mobility and stability to get into the positions required to perform the movement she is learning? If yes, then you know that these factors are not overtly contributing to the failure of the movement pattern. Conversely, if these are limitations, then mobility and stability will need to improve before your coaching cues really start to work.
  2. Can the client coordinate the movement pattern? If the client has no positional limitations but still can’t get the movement right, then she probably needs to be taught specifically how to execute the movement pattern. Within this scenario, you should see your coaching facilitating a technical change. However, if you still see the client struggling to perform the movement with technical proficiency, especially if the movement is limited by strength or speed, then you must consider one final question.
  3. Does the client have the appropriate power and strength to perform the movement? If the client is not powerful enough to perform the movement under high-speed or loaded conditions, then you will see your cues fall short. This is why it is critical to understand the relative roles of strength, power and speed when you are identifying what is limiting your coaching’s throughput. It may simply be that the client is doing what you are saying, but her body is not able to express the technical cue owing to physical limitations.

In conclusion, to prioritize what you need to be communicate over the short term and long term, you must assess your clients’ mobility, stability, strength, power and overall capacity . This is important information to have when calibrating clients’ expectations and dealing with any frustrations they encounter in trying to perform movement patterns.

To read more about how to optimize communication with your clients, please see “Attentional Focus & Cuing” in the online IDEA Library or in the May 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Nick Winkelman, MS

Nick is the Director of Education at AthletesÔÇÖ Performance where he oversees all mentorship education courses and is a full-time strength and conditioning coach. Nick has a diverse coaching background within the sports performance field working with NFL Combine Preparation, Tactical Athletes, Fire Fighters and many other sports. Nick has had the opportunity to work with the Oregon State Baseball Team that won the 2006 College World Series and was the Strength Coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates Rookie League team in Bradenton, Florida. During his time in Florida, Nick trained under Aaron Mattes, internationally acclaimed stretching authority and developer of Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) Technique. Nick is currently completing his Masters in Strength and Conditioning through Edith Cowan University and through his education has been published in the UK Strength and Conditioning AssociationÔÇÖs Journal and presented at the NSCA National Conference.

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