Cueing, Context, Visuals and Hands On
By Steve Suozzi
Everyone learns at a different pace and in a different way, something that may work for one athlete won’t always work for another. To become a better coach, we need to learn what works and what doe not work for each athlete. The more tools we have in our toolbox, the easier it is to fix any issues….develop your tools.
Over-Coaching: Imagine that you’re a fifteen-year-old kid learning to trap bar deadlift for the first time. I use trap bar deadlift as an example, because it’s easier to teach in large groups and there is less of a chance for injury if form is not perfect for a rep or two. Step into the bar and your coach starts spitting cues at you. “Chest up, back straight, feet closer, no further away now, no closer…” etc. At this point, you’ve overloaded the athlete’s brain by giving them too many cues that won’t help put them in the proper position. In order to avoid over-cueing or information overload, it’s a good idea to learn what teaching techniques work for each athlete.
Context: An example of context would be something like this: what does a softball looks like to someone who’s never seen a softball. Imagine a ball the same size and similar color as a grapefruit. The grapefruit is the context. They would need to imagine an oversized green or yellow colored baseball. Giving an athlete context can be one of the most useful coaching tools we can have. It can help put an athlete into the position you are looking to achieve without giving too many cues that may confuse them. A good example of this, while sticking to the deadlift, is teaching the hip hinge. If an athlete can’t learn the hip hinge pattern for a deadlift, regressing them to the wall for context can be a godsend. Tell them to reach their butt to the wall while showing their chest to the floor, as if there is a picture frame there and the floor wants to see it keeping a proud chest. Once they have the pattern engrained with no added weight, we can go ahead and progress them to extra loading such as a kettle bell. Now, they are ready to step back into the trap bar. Tell them, “Remember the position you were in on the wall? I want you to feel that position while you’re bending over to pick up the weight.” Giving context to someone can give them an image of something they’ve never seen, or in this case, helping an athlete feel a position they should be in without spewing too many cues at them.
Internal vs. External Cues: Don’t get me wrong, cues are still a great coaching tool when used in the right way. There are two different types of cues, internal and external. An internal cue would be a coach giving an athlete a cue that has them focusing on their own muscle groups as to how they move. For example, while teaching an athlete how to sprint, “extend your hips” would be an internal cue. These cues can be helpful, but more often than not, they’re confusing because the athlete doesn’t know how to physically extend their hip. So you can say extend the hip until you turn blue in the face, more times than not, an athlete isn’t going to get much out of a cue like that. An external cue would be to give the athlete focus on affecting something in his or her environment, they focus on the outcome of the movement. For example, the external cue for “extend your hip” is “push the floor down and away.” This gives the athlete context to literally push the ground down and away, which actually forces them to extend their hip. With the help of an external cue, athletes can get into the correct position without too much confusion. A few more examples of internal vs. external cues; when cuing a jump, rather than saying explode through the hips (internal) you can try “touch the sky.” Rather than saying drive your hips through your head (internal), you can try drive your belt buckle up (external). Visuals: This one is simple for some athletes when other cues may not be helping them. A visual aid is all they need to help teach the movement pattern. If an athlete can’t understand that their backs are arched when deadlifting, no matter how many cues or how much context you give them, they may be visual learners. Show them what you’re looking for using yourself or someone else as an example.
Hands On: Putting your hands on an athlete is something every coach should utilize. Our hands contain thousands of proprioceptive nerves that allow us to take in the world around us. Use them, feel an athlete’s movement, learn what’s right and wrong about it. If you can’t get them into a position using cues, use your hands. Raise their hips up when they dip on a plank, point their toe during a posture hold, pretend to punch them in the abdomen during a deadlift to tighten their core…give them a stimulus. Using your hands gives both you and the athlete context and knowledge.
Summary: Giving context, using proper cues or visual aids, as well as putting your hands on the athlete, is going to help put them in the correct position. This will help them become stronger, faster and a better athlete overall. While heavy weights are great for building a better athlete, proper form is key. Use your skills to get them into the proper position, the rest is easy.