Coaching Strategies

5 Scientifically Proven Coaching Strategies

#1 Coaching Strategy: Fix the Cause 
Focusing on the cause of the technical fault and not the effects of the fault will improve problem-solving for both the coach and athlete. Start at the beginning of a complex skill to seek out the error until the problem is found.

For example, if a discus thrower is landing with the upper body open in the power position, the coach should first check to make sure the left arm is inside the knee as the discus thrower moves from the entry into the middle of the circle. If the left arm is opening up too early during the entry, the result will be landing with the upper body open in the power position.

This specificity is required for all sports in which a fault is consistently seen. The best coaching practice is to fix the problem in the entry, rather than focusing on the result of the technical issue.

Coaches need to have a strategy for providing intentional feedback that is solution-focused. A proper evaluation offers insight; it can describe what happened or what needs to happen. Coaches can overload an athlete with this type of information; it is important as coaches to select the most useful details that will result in a correction of the movement pattern.

#2 Coaching Strategy: Relate Movement to Previous Learned Skills
When teaching a new movement, relate the skill to more familiar motor patterns to transition from a previously learned skill to a new skill, in the text by Dr. Jeffery Huber (2013), he stated:

Provide for the gradual transition from concrete to more abstract activities. For example, begin by teaching a specific skill and then introduce the concept of generalization and explain how the concrete skill can be applied to other similar motor movement situations. (p. 9)

Athletes do not know what feels correct; therefore, teaching the fundamentals is an integral part of learning a new skill. During the early stages of skill development, it is recommended to relate the new skill to recognizable actions and employ continuous positive reinforcement (Stagor, 2012).

When teaching the high jump, coaches can relate the takeoff to a lay-up in basketball, this will help the athlete understand the running pattern of the event and the conversion to vertical lift needed in the event.

#3 Coaching Strategy: Be Positive, Especially When Learning New Skills
Continuous positive reinforcement is best during the early stages of learning. Constant reinforcement leads to learning more quickly, but the retention rate is low; therefore, it is important to gradually reduce the quantity of positive reinforcement over several training sessions.

Partial or intermittent reinforcement provides feedback to only some of the responses. As the athlete improves, reinforcement and feedback should be less often. Constant immediate feedback is not the best learning method for skilled athletes. Delaying feedback will allow the athlete time to process the activity, even if the delay is only for a few seconds after the attempt.

#4 Coaching Strategy: When to Provide Feedback
Do not provide coaching tips immediately before executing a skill or movement. Give your athletes coaching cues shortly after an attempt and let them process the information before the next attempt. At the time of execution, the athlete should have mentally prepared for the upcoming attempt; additional information can disrupt the athlete’s focus.

When learning how to feel a movement pattern during a skill, the athlete requires basic information and feedback from the coach. Coaches should not over evaluate new movement patterns, keep the cues and suggestions simple.

Intermittent feedback is best for experienced learners, allowing time for self-evaluation and problem-solving. Using some type of variable feedback method is best for more skilled athletes. Athletes need to take ownership and learn how the event feels and solve problems on their own after the skill in question can be consistently performed.

#5 Coaching Strategy: External Focus
A feedback method called external focus is very effective in motor learning. External focus brings attention to an area outside the body when providing feedback.

Coaching phrases such as; ‘turn your right foot into the ground’ versus ‘turn your right foot’ is an example of an external focus, the ground is the external focus in this example.

Optimizing feedback by the attention focus of movement control has been researched extensively, according to Wulf, Chiviacowsky, Schiller and Avila (2010): studies have shown that motor learning is enhanced by adopting an external focus; the movement patterns become more precise, efficient, and automated when compared to only focusing on movement control within the body.

However, in a study at the U.S.A. Track and Field Championships showed several coaches provided instruction that focused the athlete’s attention internally; on the body movements only (Porter, Wu, & Partridge, 2010).

Coaches can provide the information to the athlete using an internal or external focus; however, the external focus has consistently been more productive during motor learning research (Wulf, Chiviacowsky, Schiller & Avila, 2010). More improvement can be expected in the technical events in track and field by using an external focus related to movement patterns outside the body.

BONUS STRATEGY: During Competition

During competitions, the most appropriate feedback is concise, well-timed, and accurate information. Short and direct messages are most useful; an explanation longer than 10-20 seconds will not be productive.