The Art of Coaching
CUING FREQUENCY, TIMING AND LANGUAGE
Cuing Frequency, Timing and Language
The timing and frequency of our cuing is another thing to consider. Early in my career I was told to constantly give feedback so the athlete knows your attention is on them. Although this was well meaning advice, the research actually suggests otherwise. Revisiting the previous section, the human brain can consciously focus on 1 thing at a time. If I am constantly giving feedback the athlete will constantly be changing what they are focusing on and so will never independently learn the movement.
As coaches, it is out job to create an environment for learning. Whether that's learning a movement pattern, or learning to be stronger or faster it is our role to manipulate the environment or conditions in order to allow this to happen.
Wulf, G. and colleagues (2002) did a study looking at cuing frequency. Their study suggested that there was no difference in learning when feedback was given every single rep compared to on every third rep. Essentially feedback any more frequent than every third rep is potentially just adding confusion for the athlete.
One of our favourite principles is the SAID principle. The SAID principle is Specific Adaptation to the Imposed Demand. The athlete will adapt specifically based on the environment we create. Do we want to create an environment where the athlete is constantly relying on us for feedback? The athlete needs to learn to create their own movement solutions. We know skill retention is higher when the athlete has to create their own movement solution. If we are constantly giving feedback we are not allowing that to happen. Therefore we really need to pick the key parts of the movement and continue to emphasise those.
As mentioned earlier in module 1, we know as health professionals our language can accelerate outcomes in our patients, or alternatively can increase pain and significantly delay rehabilitation by creating fear and anxiety. The way we frame our language is very important.
Further to that, we get into the health professions or coaching because we love helping people. Therefore we often focus on all the things we want to "fix". As such we often spend our time getting the athlete to focus on what not to do. "Don't bend your back", "don't let your knees cave in", "don't fall forward" etc.
If I said "don't think of a baby elephant" what did you think of? So if we say to our athletes "Don't round your back" what are they thinking of? Given that we can only truly focus on one thing is this what we want our athletes to focus on? It's generally as simple as flipping it around. "Keep your back straight" is likely to be a better option.
Praise or Feedback Sandwich
The praise sandwich is a pretty common technique for providing feedback.
Basically you provide the constructive criticism in between 2 pieces of positive feedback.
For example with a deadlift you might say:
"You did a great job keeping your weight through your whole foot,
Try to make sure you keep your back nice and straight,
but you did well shifting back into the movement.
However, we can use this with something very specific. Put simply "do this, not this, this".
For example while demonstrating you might say:
"Keep your back nice and straight,
Don't bend it like this,
Keep it straight, like this."
Essentially it takes the praise sandwich concept, and has them focusing on what to do, while showing them what to avoid.
It's interesting to note that beginners will more often request feedback after a good rep. That's because there are so many things to think about and do or not do, but repeating the same action over and over is actually really easy. So when they think they have got it right they want to know about it, so they can then reproduce it. Which is why for us as coaches we need to ensure we don't miss this opportunity. When we see a great rep, make sure the athlete knows about it straight away, and potentially what specifically was so good about it.
Wulf, G., McConnel, N., Gärtner, M., and Schwarz, A. (2002). Enhancing the learning of sport skills through external-focus feedback. J. Mot. Behav. 34, 171–182.