I have been lucky enough to work with an awesome kid for just about a year now, and it’s changed how I coach every single one of my athletes and adult clients. Keep on reading to figure out how!
Initially we worked together through a youth group with about 15 other boys and girls in a play based and agility style conditioning class. This past summer we worked together individually with more of a strength training focus and that is really when I started learning. He has since rejoined a smaller group with school back in session and is absolutely crushing it. He is energetic, unbelievably intelligent, super into sports.. and just so happens to have Autism. He doesn’t allow it to define who he is, or his capabilities; but that is a different topic completely.
Now let’s get one thing straight from the start.. this article isn’t about Autism. I’m not an Autism specialist, I’m not an Occupational Therapist, I am a strength coach. This article is simply about how this great young man has helped me become a better coach and what he has shown me about being a good person.
So back to how working with his has helped me coach all my other athletes and clients. It is pretty simple… CUEING!
Zero of my cues were hitting home. I pride myself on that being one of my strengths as a coach. I feel that I am able to word things in a different context depending on the athlete’s history, interests, etc. Having a hard time getting what I wanted to get across really made me think (which isn’t a bad thing), what could I do to fix this? Why weren’t my cues making sense? What is it that needs to change?
After many nights thinking about what I could add in, or what I could do differently, or what else I needed to do… it hit me…. DO LESS.
I was overwhelming him with cues. Do this, think of this, chest up, knees bent, and so on. I am getting anxious just thinking about how much I must have said to the kid just for one exercise. There had to be a better way for me to get the result of what the cue was intended for.
I needed to be more precise. It needed to be in a positive manner. Reinforcement had to be immediate.
Precise in the way that it needed to be very literal, very short, and zero fluff. He didn’t want a story about why, he didn’t need filler words, and he would do exactly what he thought I meant, so I needed to choose my wording wisely.
Not positive as in “RA RA, you can do it!”, but more: DO this, rather than, DON’T do that. By only giving the cue for what you want, rather than what you don’t want, you don’t allow the negative thoughts or negative actions to be a thought. Very similarly to a positive swing thought in golf. If you think “Don’t hook it” right before you swing, chances are you are going to hook it. So in this example instead of me cueing: “Don’t round your back” I made sure to say: “Stay tall, chest up”. Each cue evokes a different thought and action.
If you have ever owned a puppy, you know that immediate reinforcement is crucial if you want something to be learned. I feel it is the same when trying to teach somebody something they have never done before. In the gym you need to positively reinforce good posture, good positioning, and correct form. You also need to stop things in their track if it is incorrect. Stopping your client before a deadlift starts because their form isn’t correct isn’t just immediate reinforcement, its just good common sense practice if you actually want to keep clients. But what it does, is it teaches them how to be in the right position from the get-go.
Now with that being said, I’m not saying that there needs to be reinforcement for each individual rep. That hits back on being precise. There isn’t always need for filler commentary. “Good”, or “nice” after each rep gets old fast.
I have found that once I have been working with a client for a while, important “reminders” can be used really well to reaffirm the things I’ve already taught. “Get tight”, “Big chest”, “Steady pull”, are all reminders that I will give before a deadlift to a client that I know knows how to deadlift.
By tightening up my cueing, we have made huge strides in posture, body control, and overall strength. What we say as coaches have huge impacts on what our athletes or clients perceive. It is always important to evaluate our coaching, see what is working, see what isn’t working, and figure out how to get better. The better we are as coaches, the better off our athletes or clients will be.
These three things are grossly overly simplified. They are barely even scratching the surface of what cueing can not only do for an athlete’s performance, but for your own coaching ability If you are looking for some real serious info on the importance of cueing Nick Winkelman and Brett Bartholomew are two that I would immediately start following.