Coaching a class of athletes requires not only that you educate them and entertain them, but that you ultimately get them to move and to move better than they would without your coaching. Seeing faults in your athletes’ movements is part of what is called the “coach’s eye.” However, bridging the gap between seeing those faults and fixing those faults and training your athletes to move better is both an art and a science.
Organize your athletes so you can see them all. Then get them to move in unison. Moving everyone in unison helps uncover faults quickly. For example, with everyone in the bottom of a squat it only takes a quick scan to immediately see who is at depth and who isn’t. Cue the group as a whole to do what you want. “Squat. Stand. Squat and keep your heels down. Stand. Squat with your heels down and keep your chest up. Stand.” When you see common faults among several athletes you can address it as a group. “Squat until your hip crease goes below your knee. Stand.” When you see individuals doing something you can still correct the whole group. “Squat. Shove your knees out, Johnny. Stand.” By saying Johnny’s name at the end, it sounds like a cue for the whole group and most people will try harder and Johnny especially will get the message when he hears his name.
Tactile adjustments can be given at the same time as verbal cues are given to the whole group. You can put your hand on Johnny’s knee and say, “Squat and push your knees out. Stand.” You can still control the group and watch the group and still help Johnny all at once.
Sometimes you need to get visual and demonstrate what you are looking for. “Everyone squat down and shove your knees apart like this.” Make sure you are in full view of those that really need the demonstration and that they are watching you as you do it.
Break It Down!
The preceding methods of fixing faults are excellent but sometimes they are a band aid on a bullet wound: as a coach you have to address the major underlying movement problem(s). The best way to do this is simply to take someone through the movement incrementally. Often I watch coaches let their athletes get into terrible positions and then expect them to be able to correct themselves when it is already too far gone. A coach needs to know how to stop an athlete before the fault occurs and try to teach the movement correctly from scratch. Look at the front squat, if you wait until your athlete is at the bottom of their squat and they’ve already come up on their toes and rounded their back, lifting their elbows is the least of their problems. Instead try to slow the athlete down and get them to start in as perfect a position as they can, then let them move only as far as they are able to without breaking form. This can be done with a group as well as with individuals. Teaching slowly and methodically, while initially tedious, often has the benefit of getting people to do things right the first time and building good habits. A drill I often use is called the “two-inch drill.” I make my athletes squat two inches at a time and freeze, find and fix their mistakes before we go two more inches. It’s a difficult drill and doing 3 squats like this can take 2 minutes. However, athletes are working hard at fixing their movement and afterwards are moving much better.
Less Thinking. More Doing!
The other end of the spectrum is to get people to stop thinking. Most people are plagued with “paralysis by analysis”: they over-think their movements and thus become stiff and move unnaturally. What we want to do instead is give them the ability to feel something so that they don’t have to think about and they can just move. Ask people to jump. Then tell them to jump but imagine their feet are glued to the floor. Now give them a kettlebell and you have taught them a recipe for a good kettlebell swing. Jump with your feet nailed to the floor and let the weight of the bell carry your arms up and down. It doesn’t have to be harder than that. Let them feel it and then you can refine it.
Make your athletes feel like athletes. Give them opportunities to excel and make them feel like winners.
Read the rest of the On Coaching Series.