Becoming a skills whisperer: giving your students the best cues

Posted on January 12, 2018

You are teaching a student a new skill. You know they have the strength and are ready. So, what will happen next?

What can be the biggest predictor of success or failure? It’s your cues.

What sets great coaches apart is the ability to “speak” to their students and say the right thing at the perfect time. As a coach you must be able to communicate with your students in a way that makes sense to them and their body to enable them to learn. (Of course, there is also the bonus of great cues making you an entertaining coach that your students love.)

The first step is understanding the types of cues and learning how to recognize them. Using the position of the humerus in hanging as an example, here are the two major categories of cues for instruction

Internal Focus – directs students to their own actions
“rotate your arm to point your elbow forward”

External Focus – directs students to the effects of their actions
“break the bar behind you”

Both examples tell the student what you are looking for, but which is more successful?

External Focus!

It turns out, we humans learn faster and have more success when we let our unconscious processes take control and have greater accuracy with less effort.

While these cues require a bit more creativity, the benefits are clear. So, have your students “squeeze a pencil between their butt cheeks,” “shove a sword through the patriarchy,” or “shoot lasers from their toes” and they will have great success!

Thank you to the wonderful instructors and their brilliant external cues who inspired this post. You keep us all up in the air and excelling.

In case you are even tempted to flop off your apparatus just remember to worry “about the kittens!!!”


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Photo courtesy of Danny Boulet of WittyPixel Photography featuring artist Jody Poth.

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