In this article I want to explore the coach’s toolbox a little, and see how manipulating exercise prescription, cueing and feedback can help promote learning. The genesis of this piece was actually a presentation I listened to by my friend and colleague Rob Flett, delivered on behalf of the Lift Professional Development group. Rob’s also joined us on the podcast, Weakly Weights, to talk about the role of sleep in maximising strength adaptations.
Because this is a long piece (like 6000 words), I’ll include a TLDR summary and the summary infographic at the start.
1 – Training the powerlifts should be considered as honing a skill. This requires training with effort and attention, using means that provide access to useful feedback and opportunities for error detection and correction. That entails training with non-trivial loads, and doesn’t just mean mechanical repetition of the lifts.
2 – We learn from and adapt to constraints placed on movement. By manipulating the conditions under which we perform skills (think lifting variations, use of tempos, boxes/feedback mechanisms, alterations in load etc) we can highlight key performance aspects of skills.
3 – Cueing strategies should vary across the development of a lifter. In early learning phases, frequent skill-focused cueing appears to aid performance. Part of this is because it directs attention to necessary components of the skill, which is particularly necessary when their concept of the movement is underdeveloped. More advanced lifters may not benefit, or even suffer, from excessive cueing, as it can make them re-establish our clunkier conscious control systems over movement that is otherwise automatic. Cueing in their case should be directed at effortful aspects of the lift.
4 – The nature of cueing matters, too. External cues (those that focus on the outcomes of our bodily actions) are generally preferable for performance to internal cues (those focused on the necessary body actions). Internal cues may still have some use especially in early learning.
5 – The amount and nature of feedback provided should also change across a career. Early, feedback should be relatively frequent and involve both descriptive and prescriptive elements. Feedback should be progressively faded in quantity as people become more skilled, and become more descriptive, but more precise. The ultimate goal is to increase reliance of your athletes on their intrinsic feedback mechanisms and develop autonomy.
6 – Demonstration can be a useful teaching tool, but only when the specific movement strategies necessary are highlighted, and where the method of execution demonstrated is not unnecessarily constraining. Early learners may even benefit from observing poor reps, as they present an opportunity to spot and resolve errors.
I think I could say pretty uncontroversially that powerlifting isn’t the most technically complicated sport on earth. This is despite the intricate understanding high-level lifters have of what it takes to lift maximum loads and their refined ability to sense deviations in technique that may be visually near-imperceptible.
The demands of performing large, relatively simple tasks, slowly, in a controlled environment, pale in comparison to, say, hitting a forehand in tennis, where your execution has to adapt to court placement, where you are aiming, the pace, spin, and placement of the shot that you are returning, and so on.
Given the simplicity of powerlifting movements, and given that the performance demands of a lift are entirely predictable, intuitively you would believe that to develop perfect technique, one just requires adequate perfect practice of the competition lifts. However, in practice this doesn’t pan out.
In a previous article about variations, I listed some reasons that they can be beneficial. The immediate one that springs to mind for most people is for strengthening relevant musculature in a more targeted way, which is an absolutely valid concern. The presumption is, then, that training of the competition lifts allows for the transfer of the newly developed strength of said muscle into the movement itself. However, motor learning theories also suggest that there is a basis for manipulating tasks in order to promote learning of a skill.
Similarly, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just cueing the same stuff to lifters doing the same lifts, or barking a solution to their technical problems at them during and after a set. However, the amount and nature of feedback that we give clients is a very important consideration, and one for which the optimal approach likely changes over the course of their career.
Lifting as practice
To reiterate how I began this article, powerlifting isn’t that complicated. Having more absolute muscle mass and other general strength qualities should be your global training goal. At the very top level, differences in muscle mass between competitors describes a very large portion of their performance discrepancies. Being way up your butt about maximizing technical efficiency at the expense of just getting stronger is asinine, and you can and should do both. Read more about that here.
Also, before I get too into it, it’s worth noting that powerlifting’s performance demands are very different from most other sports. Much of the literature that I read about motor control was interested in maximizing performance in “open” skills (ie those performed in a variable environment and therefore must be adapted constantly to be successful, such as the forehand that I mentioned earlier). Certain learning strategies promote greater performance and transfer in skills in such environments, partly because they promote adaptability of the skill itself. To some degree that isn’t necessary in lifting performance, and so if I have to make some suppositions and logical leaps to tie the evidence together, I’ll do so and try to say so, too.
All that said, as coaches we do absolutely need to make our lifters competent, and stable, well-refined technique is stronger, safer, and allows for better control of the application of stress due to its uniformity.
Particularly in earlier learners, I delineate between competition lifts/technical practice and “grunt work”, the latter being the less technically-demanding stuff that is pushed closer to failure to achieve general hypertrophy/strength adaptation, while the former is typically held back a little. Over the course of the training career the discrepancy in relative difficulty between the two will disappear, and then more or less reverse (listen to the “programming the beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifter series of Weakly Weights for discussion of this).
Logically the idea that practice is necessary to get good at a task is pretty inarguable. However, the nature of practice is important too. “Deliberate practice” describes structured activity with the primary goal of improving an important aspect of current performance. Such activity includes immediate access to useful feedback, the opportunity for repetition, error detection, and correction, and requires full attention, maximal effort, and complete concentration. (1)
Time engaged in deliberate practice has been demonstrated over multiple domains (sporting activities, playing music etc) to be related to attaining mastery, and the concept of the 10,000hr rule (that you need to spend 10,000hrs doing xyz to become a true expert) is in reference to engagement in true practice.
The definition of deliberate practice above neatly describes training, especially in how we approach the main lifts, at least in earlier learning, before a lot of training can be completed in more of a flow state (also, I’ll note that one of the reasons deliberate practice is as distinct from play is due to the deliberate deferment of flow – 10,000 hours of strumming a guitar doesn’t build mastery to the same extent as 10,000 hours of engaged/mindful exploration and drilling). Nevertheless, the targeted application of effort to improve performance, availability of feedback, and opportunity to detect and correct errors describes training under the coach’s eye.
It is tempting for lifters with a mind set on developing technique to then think that mechanical repetition of movement patterns and rote learning is optimal, but it’s probably not. Or at least not quite.
As I mentioned before, in open skills learners must be able to adapt to environmental changes that dictate optimal performance (the forehand that you hit on the half volley coming forward to the net is not the same as the defensive cross-court forehand that you play moving backwards behind the baseline, for an extreme example). With simple mechanical repetition the learner doesn’t learn to overcome situational demands and generalize the skill.
In the case of powerlifting this environmental variability doesn’t exist. You could argue that simple repetition is, in fact, ideal, for many of the same reasons that technical stability is good. You improve the strength of the relevant musculature by using it, it allows targeted stress, yada yada.
However, even mindful/effortful lifting with perfect technique is not sufficient to develop technique maximally unless the maintenance of that technique is, itself, challenging. Minor deviations in technique, which you then correct, are part of the learning process, and errors give feedback about the nature of performance which can then be used to alter your future movement strategy.
To be clear – that doesn’t mean you should aim for errors, but rather that you shouldn’t be able to take perfection entirely for granted due to loads being too submaximal. Good technique should be “hard but attainable”. As lifters improve in competency, the difficulty of loading that they can be subjected to whilst still meeting that criteria increases, hence the reduced disparity between “practice” and grunt work as time goes on.
Further, loading that is below that difficulty threshold is almost certainly not hard enough to promote much morphological adaptation. There’s only so much muscle and general strength you can develop doing sets of 5 with 15-20 reps in reserve, unless you have a pretty solid foundation of non-specific volume work happening underneath it.
Past a point, lighter absolute loads also just don’t have that much to do with competition loads – the act of balancing with a broomstick on your back is so far removed from balancing with 250+kg on your back that you can’t expect to fine-tune that capability without loading that’s semi-relevant to getting stronger.
So, so far we have the concepts that practice needs to be targeted to improve performance, generate useful performance information and be attention-demanding, and that just mechanical repetition is probably not enough to truly master technique. There needs to be difficulty commensurate with your current level of technical stability.
Variation as a teaching tool
A prominent theory of motor learning is the constraints-led model, which essentially states that the interaction between individual-specific, task-specific, and environment-specific constraints results in the emergence of a motor pattern appropriate to achieving a performance goal. A constraint is a boundary that shapes the emergence of movement behavior. Skill is then defined as the ability to maintain stable performance under changing conditions. (2, 3)
This theory has important implications for learning. By altering constraints that a task is performed under, coaches can highlight specific performance components in a task, or direct the learner towards certain solutions to a movement “problem”.
From a powerlifting coaching perspective, the task-specific constraints are the most malleable, of which one is load. In one of the only lifting-specific papers on this that I’ve read (4), 18-30yr old men who were unfamiliar with squatting were given written instructions and shown a video of a powerlifting-style squat performed with good technique. Participants then performed 1 squat rep with 1/3 of their bodyweight on the bar. Half of the participants then increased the load to ½ of their bodyweight and performed another repetition, whilst the other half kept load the same. After each of the two repetitions, they answered a questionnaire designed to assess their conceptualization of squat technique and were also asked to arrange a wooden model into “correct” postures. Video analysis was also conducted on each trial to compare the performance of the participants with that of the model.
The study was designed to investigate whether participants would improve their cognitive representation (a wanky way of saying a blueprint/encoded understanding of a motor task) over the two trials, and whether the group exposed to more load would do so to a greater degree than the flat-loaded group. As it happened, the group that performed the second rep with increased load DID appear to improve their cognitive representation of the squat better (per the questionnaire and ability to assemble the wooden figure correctly), and were also closer to the model’s technique in their performance of the second rep.
The researchers speculated that the first load may have been too trivial to develop the kinaesthetic sense that the increased load did (note what I said about squatting with a broomstick) and state that the importance of a developing an accurate cognitive representation of a task is that it allows the learner to develop hypotheses about how to perform a movement better in future.
Obviously this can’t be extrapolated to mean that more load is always better for learning, but rather that the right loads (again per what I already said) likely help more than trivial ones, and highlights that, conceptually at least, developing an innate understanding of what x or y movement should feel like with newer athletes is important. Nor is it to say that the only ways to engender such an understanding are demonstration and practice of the movement.
Task-specific constraints also include things such as the equipment used, or “rules” under which a skill is performed, which essentially describes the use of variation. Intuitively most coaches consider variations to highlight aspects of performance of a task – consider how paused deadlifts highlight the importance of positioning off of the floor, squats to a low box highlight that the hips must displace backwards and down a certain distance, and bench presses with the feet up reduce one avenue for creating stability (the feet) and therefore highlight shoulder stability.
Closely related to this is the concept of information-movement coupling (5), which essentially states that we learn to move by association. When familiar movement pressures are imposed upon us, autonomous movement generally emerges, but we also become sensitive to relevant information in the motor landscape. Consider how you don’t need to entirely re-learn to drive when you swap vehicles, but you certainly notice changes in your view around the car and in the sensitivity of the pedals. Similarly, if you squat on a bosu ball you don’t have to go back to square one to figure out squatting, but you do focus attention on not falling over. Put another way – we don’t need to continually invest cognitive effort in performing the aspects of a task that remain similar. We preserve it for finding a solution to the aspects that are different.
When teaching the powerlifts as skills, being able to highlight and transpose generalizable aspects of the task between variations can assist in developing a richer understanding of technique for the client.
This doesn’t mean that we develop optimal, say, squatting technique by never performing the competition squat, but it does mean that by making targeted alteration to the task demands we can improve the squat form down the track. Manipulating task constraints to facilitate “corrections” to technique is step one. Step two is successful integration of those skills into the main lift (we’ll cover that soon).
In the case of powerlifting, loading altered patterns also happen to strengthen muscles and postures that may be underdeveloped, contributing to the technique that we display in the main lift. Consider that safety bar squats are especially punishing on the thoracic extensors, and punish lifters heavily for letting their hips rise too early. Whilst the “skill” of maintaining balance and standing straight up is developed with that movement, that’s inseparable from the fact that it also develops the stronger quads and back musculature necessary to execute the competition squat that way.
In the context of other sports/skills, manipulating task constraints is thought to promote adaptability by forcing the learner to overcome different demands and achieve a similar outcome (3). Returning to the forehand example in tennis, it isn’t possible to truly rote learn all of the possible iterations of forehand that one might have to hit, but by practicing hitting balls bouncing at different speeds, heights and angles back to one point of the court, or practicing returning a similar shot to different points of the court, etc, the ability to generate the required solution during matchplay improves.
In powerlifting, this is less necessary. It would be a truly strange competition that required you to alter the implement, environment, or technical standards with which you squatted, and so instead the role of the coach is to aid in transposing technical elements between lifts. To some degree that is achieved simply by making the right muscles stronger per the above, but effective communication of the “lesson” and buy-in from the athlete can, I suspect, help.
I’m not aware of research covering this, but it stands to reason also that the similarity of the tasks and the specificity of the variation to the intended lesson matter in this regard. The further that you regress from the task that you are trying to improve, the more steps are necessary to successfully integrate changes to it.
Take, for instance, using a high bar squat to improve the low bar squat. As with the example of safety bars above, high bars are hard on the legs, punish lifters for losing torso position and increase demands on the upper back extensors. For many lifters the high and low bar squat also look pretty similar, and maintaining the concept of “standing straight up” or pushing the floor away from one to the other is no great leap. The same could be said for maintaining the same descent pattern between a low bar squat to a box and low bar squat without a box.
However, using a hack or pendulum squat to train leg strength probably does require more time for successful integration in the competition squat. On the one hand, the task constraints are such that you have no option but to keep using your quads to finish a pendulum squat – you can’t shoot your ass back and do a good-morning. On the other hand, the postural demands, equipment, and range of motion used are very different from the competition squat. Because of the lack of broader similarity between the two movement patterns, identifying and transposing a particular sub-skill is harder. Consider that the more is “different” between two modes of execution, the harder it is to identify one particular difference.
When choosing variations to assist in motor learning, consider how you can manipulate the constraints of a task to promote the behavior that you want. It’s probable that the more surface-level similarity there is between a variation and the competition lift, the more easily transposed a technical aspect of one to the other will be. Very general exercises (such as the pendulum squat, above) can be highly specific to the muscular/movement needs of your athletes and have a lot of other benefits (link to article), but will need to be used either concurrently with the main lift, or require some additional time or phases for successful integration in the main lift.
Bringing this back to the concept of practice – all squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting, is squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting (except sumo). Training serves the purpose of developing the morphological characteristics necessary to be stronger, and we think of it on that basis. However, if we reconsider our definition of deliberate practice, I said that it “…[provides] immediate access to useful feedback, the opportunity for repetition, error detection, and correction, and requires full attention, maximal effort, and complete concentration”. Variations, performed mindfully, highlight important technical aspects of the lift and, by virtue of drawing our attention to the unique task demands that they entail (remember information-movement coupling), provide targeted feedback on the performance of particular parts of the skill.
Feedback and cueing
Summary so far – we need deliberate practice to get good at tasks. Manipulating the constraints under which a skill is performed can assist people in exploring the movements and find effective ways of performing them. All of this is more or less inextricable from just training fairly hard and trying to do so with good technique (it sounds underwhelming when I say it like that, but there you go).
If the above were all that is necessary, though, then coaches wouldn’t have to do much other than program effectively to get people good. In truth, that’s not far wrong, as we’ll discuss, but there is a little more to it to unpack.
The first thing most people think about when thinking of coaching is cueing and feedback. At least in my experience, people perceive of the coach as somebody who assumes some type of position to watch the lift, prompts people to do it correctly, and then tells them “good job” or “you suck” or something in-between.
Coaching is perceived to add value above and beyond programming for the reason that you receive this feedback and rep by rep correction (all of which is, in many instances, true). However, the amount and nature of feedback provided to lifters matters enormously, and just cueing people every rep and spoon-feeding athletes the solutions to their problems might not be the best way to teach them.
A first concept – feedback and cueing are constraints that direct the attention of the athlete (3). The athlete’s capacity for attention is reduced by fatigue, stress, and environmental factors, and so in some respects redirecting it towards critical aspects of performance is helpful. Remember that deliberate practice is attention-demanding, and drawing attention to elements of performance might help develop a sense for them.
However, this isn’t true across all levels of development. In beginners, skill-focused cueing typically improves consistency of performance, whereas in experts it may interfere (6). In the case of experts, lower-order functions are controlled by automatic processes. In open skills, or those where there are both strategic and motor elements, that means that experts can redirect attention to the situational demands of what they’re doing and adapt the skill performed accordingly. In powerlifting that is obviously unnecessary (other than perhaps reacting to “press” calls when you bench, at a stretch), but where aspects of a skill can be competently performed automatically, it might be better to leave it so (I’ll address this soon).
Back to beginners – misdirected attention has a detrimental impact on their performance. That makes sense – just as you couldn’t drive and talk at the same time, at first, and just like how you probably turn down the music and stop singing when you have to reverse-park, until a task is comfortable, it requires attention (this is one of the reasons we automate tasks – it spares effort and attention for other things). Importantly, though, moving from relevant to irrelevant cueing reduces performance more. That has implications for coaching – barking a cue that is not agreed upon at a novice, or cueing aspects of the task outside of the immediate focus/teaching point will probably make them do worse. In this population, cueing directs their attention where it needs to be.
Automaticity explains why advanced athletes often do better without too much cueing, and also relates to the nature of cueing that we ought to give when we do.
Processing of motor information that is rule/instruction-bound and attention demanding (called controlled processing, and typically seen in beginners) is slow and serial in nature, meaning we can only really deal with one task/obstacle at a time before going to the next one. Automatic processing (what we see in more skilled performers) is faster, not attention-demanding, and works in parallel (we can deal with more perturbations concurrently) (7).
Regressing people from automatic processing to controlled processing will make things feel clunkier and more effortful than they ought to, and should be reserved for when it is necessary or advantageous (such as making wholesale technical changes, possibly).
If you like this content and want to learn more from me, check out Fitness Fundamentals – a website providing the most up to date, applicable fitness information, run by my colleague Luke Tulloch and with content written by me.
The nature of cueing can have similar effects. Internal cues (those that direct attention to the body movements that produce an effect) tend to reduce performance when compared to external cues (those that direct attention to the outcome of our actions). For instance, when people stand on balance boards, directing them focus on a point ahead of them aids performance and transfer better than telling them to keep their feet level with each other (8). Part of the suggested reason is that this causes us to interfere with automatic processes. Considering the balance board task – posture is under subconscious control, with changes in joint position and muscle tension we have reflexes that keep us upright without us “thinking” of not falling over. Imposing conscious control above and beyond this adds a layer of processing to the signal that doesn’t need to be there to achieve the same outcome, and is by necessity slower (the information must be processed and a response formulated, before being consciously directed).
In the case of lifting weights, I would posit (although I haven’t seen research to this effect) that internal cueing can help with developing some sense of what “correct” movement entails, because it directs attention to specific aspects of the movement and sensation, and prevents automaticity prior to having a generally sound pattern down. However, once somebody can lift half-well, external cues are probably better. That means that cues such as “knees forward” or “stand straight up” are better cues than “squeeze your quads” when trying to teach somebody to avoid their hips shooting up when squatting.
The degree to which cues can interfere w automaticity also matters in what you choose to cue, and when you do it. As cueing directs attention, it should be focused on the aspects of a task that are effortful and/or require thought. Cueing somebody to “balance” at the top of a squat probably doesn’t help if they can stand upright just fine, cueing them to “bend the bar over [your] back” to get it tight, might.
It also means that as absolute performance, as opposed to technical development, becomes more important, cueing should in principle be reduced to encouragement/cheerleading for the most part. The more attention you divert away from maximal effort, the less you can give to trying your hardest. At competitions, some athletes might find being cued or walked through their lifts useful as a form of environmental or arousal control, which is a perfectly good reason to do it, but many will do just as well being told to try very hard and worry about it later. Even in those who DO prefer cueing during competition, the goal should be less to actually impose technical change, and more to reinforce ritual aspects of the lift.
That about covers cueing, onto feedback. To many people, feedback simply comprises of what your coach/training partner/IG story replies tell you about your performance after your set. In reality, it’s much more than that.
Feedback is actually available without anybody else being there – it’s a natural consequence of performance (2). When you perform a task, you see and feel aspects of your performance and the result. You might even hear it, in some instances. This intrinsic feedback can then be added to by extrinsic feedback (or “augmented” feedback). Augmented feedback describes its own best use – it is the provision of feedback that would not otherwise be available to the performer, either because they lack the sense to identify it intrinsically, or it is impossible for them to perceive it (such as shooting at a target that you cannot see).
The guided learning hypothesis states that frequent feedback is beneficial for performance in the short term but detrimental to learning, the reason being that performers who receive extrinsic feedback too frequently become reliant on it at the expense of developing their own sensitive intrinsic feedback mechanisms, and so do not develop adequate sense of their own movement (2).
Too much augmented feedback can also overload the learner – there’s only so much that you can process and integrate at a time. That’s also a case for manipulating task constraints (remember that?) – by strategically altering the movement parameters, specific information (remember information-movement coupling?) is highlighted and can be detected by the performer without you having to tell them.
So if the ideal is to develop athletes whose intrinsic feedback mechanisms are well-developed (because that’s what develops self-sufficiency and performance sense), what’s the appropriate amount to give?
It’s probable that this changes with the competency of the athlete. In the early stages of learning frequent feedback is required to reduce error frequency and magnitude. If you remember the concept of cognitive representation, where an athlete has an underdeveloped sense of what a movement entails, they need some sense of what they ought do. As skill acquisition continues feedback should be faded in order to reduce guidance effects (2).
The drawbacks of frequent feedback can be mitigated a little using self-evaluation prior to receiving it, and by delaying the provision of feedback so that the athlete has time to process their own performance themselves. Using a question and answer style (“what felt good? What was bad? Why did (x that they identified) occur?”) is also helpful, and helps direct attention to critical aspects of performance. This is also an opportunity to select which aspects of the movement need attention and develop agreed-upon cues for subsequent sets.
The nature of feedback should also change over a career. Feedback can be delineated between descriptive elements (“your chest fell forwards as you stood up”) and prescriptive elements (…”so you should drive your chest up”).
In earlier learning, both descriptive and prescriptive elements are likely helpful. The learner can’t necessarily self-identify what was good or bad, although you should let them try (descriptive), and are unlikely to know how to fix it (prescriptive). As athletes get more advanced, providing simple descriptive feedback allows them to self-organize solutions to the problem or figure out where their own intrinsic feedback mechanisms tell them that they deviated from their normal technique. The precision of descriptive feedback provided should also increase at this point, in line with the athlete’s more refined sense of technique. Where before, it might be sufficient to say “that rep was good, you held position well”, in this instance saying “your upper back looked tighter, you got upright earlier than normal out of the hole” might be more appropriate.
To sum up cueing and feedback – both direct attention and should therefore be used strategically. For beginners, pre-planned, skill-focused cueing should be used, relatively frequently. Internal cues may be appropriate to begin with, progressing to external cues as movement sense develops. Feedback should be given frequently, using techniques such as delay and question/answer styles to help develop intrinsic sense of what the correct movement is, and should involve descriptive and prescriptive elements. For advanced lifters, cueing should be largely external and focused on the effort-demanding elements of a task. Feedback should be faded/infrequent and largely descriptive, with the athlete self-identifying errors and their solutions.
Very quickly, demonstration is a technique used by many coaches to convey information to clients. However, demonstrations are not always better than verbal instruction. If success in a task requires the replication of a specific technique, the strategy required to succeed is highlighted, and the client is motivated, demonstrations are a useful teaching tool.
However, where the aspects of successful performance are more general, or the model provided needs to be adapted/scaled heavily, it is not likely better than simply telling somebody what to do. Demonstrations may be too constraining of motor patterns, and actually preclude people performing a slightly adapted, but still effective, version of the task (2).
In certain tasks such as our forehand, this makes a lot of sense – consider that Nadal and Federer hit very different, but both devastatingly effective forehands, and using either as a model for the other would not be useful unless focusing on some piece of minutae that they wished to emulate.
The powerlifts are actually similar – everybody’s squat is a little bit different, beyond the general principles, and so demonstrations need to be used to highlight specific aspects of the task, not the whole thing (such as “watch how my hips break”, as opposed to “squat like this”).
One way in that we can use whole-of-skill demonstrations is in reviewing videos of our clients lifting. Because the pattern that they are watching is easily generalizable to their own (it literally IS their own), highlighting good reps, bad reps, and specific aspects of good reps makes it easier to convey information. What’s more, many people will be able to evoke a sense of what their lifting felt like during the video. There’s also evidence that imperfect demonstrations are useful for learners, because they’re an additional chance for error detection and at developing strategies to improve performance, and so watching sets back is a great way to learn to lift better especially when guided. For more advanced lifters, using their own lifts as exemplars most of the time is probably advisable, as it is most specific.
So, what is coaching?
Many people mistakenly conceive of coaching as a transfer of information between an all-knowing authority figure and the know-nothing athlete. In reality, successful coaching is a process of guided discovery, in which the athlete develops their own technique and their own ability to garner useful information from their performances in order to further improve. The sum of practice, feedback, cueing and demonstration is an increasingly refined cognitive representation of what good lifting entails.
By altering the constraints placed on athletes through programming, the use of variations, and providing feedback that directs attention in targeted ways, coaches can facilitate this process.
It’s worth noting that at many points in development coaches would be better served saying and doing less, conveying less information, and doing less of what might otherwise feel like justifying their role by demonstrating their expertise. It’s certainly contrary to my instincts, and contrary to why I expect many people hire me after reading diatribes of this length/depth, but something I’m working on.
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1 – The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance – Ericcson, 1993
2- Practice, instruction and skill acquisition in soccer: Challenging tradition – Williams and Hodges 2005
3 – Skill Acquisition in Sport: Research, Theory and
Practice – Williams and Hodges
4 – Psychological modelling and adaptations in cognitive representations with increased resistance during motor skill acquisition – Catina 2009-
5 – Information-movement coupling: Implications for the organization of research and practice during acquisition of self-paced extrinsic timing skills – Davids 2001
6 – Skill-based changes in motor performance from attentional focus manipulations: a kinematic analysis – Raisbeck 2001
7 – How to Understand skill Acquisition in Sport – Moe 2004
8 – Increasing the distance of an external focus of attention enhances learning – McNevin 2003