A Hierarchy for Delivering Your Message to Athletes

By Wil Fleming – IYCA Director of Sport Performance

I was recently talking to Robert Dos Remedios about the order in which you need to get better as a coach. The question arose as we discussed the ways in which coaches pursue continuing education. Dos mentioned that he sees a lot of coaches heading down pathways that tend more towards physical therapy disciplines than coaching disciplines. We both thought this could be a problem if coaches aren’t well versed in the areas that are most important to being a great coach.

We settled on a track that most coaches should find themselves on as they look to improve:

  • Movement: A coach must be a master at coaching the movements they want to see improved.
  • Programming: A coach must be excellent at putting together a program to reach a desired result.
  • Message Delivery: A coach must master the ability to deliver their messages both motivationally and in the movements they coach.
  • Business: If you are in the private sector, you must know how to run a business.

My message today is geared towards number 3: message delivery. Too often we try to talk our way through the movements we are coaching and find little to no results with certain athletes while some athletes have incredible improvements. Why is that?

Quite simply, some of our message becomes stale when we use the language we use, so we must be prepared for all athletes with the correct language.

We have actually developed a hierarchy of how to deliver our message with level 1 being the highest priority and the way in which the most athletes will be able to learn from our teachings. Level 3 is the level at which the fewest athletes will be able to connect, but it is also the level that shows as a coach we have the deepest understanding of the movement.

For illustrative purposes, we will look at 2 movements and how we can use all 3 levels of coaching/communication to produce the desired result. Skipping will be our first example, and our second example will be the first pull of a clean from the ground.

Level 1: Environmental Feedback

At this level, NOTHING needs to be said. We can put athletes in this environment, and they will know if they do it correctly or not.

  • Skipping: To provide information about the proper posture while skipping, you could give the athlete an external load to place overhead or on their shoulders. Automatically, the athlete should feel that they are in a tall and strong posture; otherwise, the load will be out of place.
  • Clean: An effective first pull of the clean will have the bar coming back to the athlete; in this scenario, we can prime the athlete to automatically have the bar come back at them by using a small resistance band pulling the bar forward. To counteract this force, the athlete must pull the bar back to the body.

Level 2: External Cueing

Our cues talk about the outcomes of the movement. They are focused on external actions and not body parts.

  • Skipping: “Punch the ground away from you to explode up.” Again, the posture should take care of itself as the athlete focuses on his or her surroundings.
  • Clean: “Push the ground away and sweep the bar close to the body.” This is vivid language focused on the result of the action.

Level 3: Internal Cueing

Our least-preferred method is most appropriate for refinements in technique with our most advanced athletes. These cues focus on the body parts and their specific actions.

  • Skipping: “Brace the core, keep the eyes up, dorsiflex the ankle, and strike the ground.” This cue consists of specific actions and requires an athlete who is very in tune with their body.
  • Clean: “Extend the knees back, keep the feet flat, and use the lats to pull the bar closer to the body.” As you can imagine, there are not a lot of athletes who have the awareness to perform the movement with this level of precision

A good coach will have all 3 levels lined up for almost any action. He or she will use environmental cues first, external second, and internal last (or with the most advanced athletes). With all 3 in your back pocket, you will be able to coach any movement well.

If you like this article and want more from Wil Fleming, check out Learn How to Ensure Your Athletes are Training for Peak Performance.  In this 5-Video training series, you will discover how to build bulletproof, resilient athletes on and off the field.

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