19 November, 2015

​Achieving faster Skill Acquisition

​Achieving faster Skill Acquisition

[Photo credit: Stig Nygaard]

As coaches, we want our athletes to be able to perform the skills we are teaching them faster and with improved accuracy. This acquisition of skills is linked to our ability as coaches to be able to effectively code our athletes.

So think of a computer programmer, writing code for a computer to perform what looks to be a simple task. Hours goes into making the computer perform all the tasks we take for granted. But one line of bad code written by the programmer can mean that the computer no longer performs.

This is the same as for our athletes. You as the coach or programmer, need to get that coding right and the language you use over the hours of coaching will impact on the final performance.

The task we are teaching is movement competency and one of the coding languages we use is cueing. Cueing is about prompting your athletes to change their current movement or behavior. This cue needs to be specific, immediate, clear and simple to achieve your intended change. There are two types of cues, external and internal. I believe that both have a key time to be used in coaching.

Point the fingers, chest up, elbows tucked in are all internal cues requiring the athlete to think about how to move their body.

In contrast, pull through the water, hit the target, land the ball on their chest are external cues which place the emphasis on an external performance objective.

Internal Cue – The athlete is focused on their body and how they move.
External Cue – The athlete is focused on their environment and the outcome of their movement.

So which to use?

Research suggests that external cues have a greater effect on athlete performance. But as a coach I also know that it depends on where the athlete is in their stage of competence as to the type of cueing best used to refine the technical aspects of a skill or movement.

For example, as I coach I might break the movement down into smaller parts of the movement pattern (technical method). This increases the conscious awareness of the athlete, when performing the required movement.

Then by switching back to external cues, the athlete may be able to internally recognise a ‘defect’ in their movement pattern or code. This self-diagnosis will enable the athlete will modify their own movement to achieve the outcome.

I encourage the coaches I mentor to have an internal and external cue for the same movement and try them out. What works for one athlete won't work for another. Be consciously aware as a coach of what is and isn’t working.

Most importantly keep your cues specific, immediate, clear and simple. Too many cues confuse the athlete and they become overwhelmed. Just like a computer with too many programs open, things will start to crash and errors will appear all over the screen.

Cues are another tool for coaches working towards achieving that Woohoo! moment of skill acquisition for their athletes.

It all takes practice, and remember, if you can't do the skill or technique yourself, don’t worry. Find an athlete who can, and use them to demonstrate. Your ability to clearly communicate is often more valuable than your in depth knowledge of and ability to demonstrate the skills.

© 2019 Paul Mead