3 Ways To Improve Your Coaching Of Young Athletes
Here are three things that I have learned during recent years that have led me to become a better coach. Hopefully, they can help you too.
Lesson 1: The Effectiveness of External Coaching Cues
Significantly influenced by the work of Nick Winkelman, I have become convinced of the power of external coaching cues.
Coaching cues are snippets of information provided by a coach that attract and direct a young athlete’s attention with the aim of assisting the athlete to achieve a desired movement result.
External coaching cues are those cues that focus attention away from the body or are targeted beyond the body on an external object. Internal coaching cues focus attention on an individual’s own body movement or muscle action.
Research indicates that while internal cues are very commonly used by coaches, it is external cues that are more likely to promote motor skill learning and performance improvement in an athlete.
This means, for example, that when trying to teach the long jump arm action, it is better to use the external cue of “Touch the sky” rather than the internal cue of “Stretch your arms up above your head”.
I have seen noticeable differences in kids’ responses to cues when I use an external focus in preference to an internal focus
For example, when instructing kids to run with high knees while holding a pool noodle above their head, I have seen little improvement when using the cue “Stretch your arms up” but an astonishing postural improvement when I have changed this cue to “Lift the pool noodle to the sky”.
External cues are more effective.
I will continue to experiment with using external cues and I encourage you to do so too. Let me know what you come up with!
Lesson 2: The Motivational Effect of Movement Challenges as Strength Training
I have virtually rid my sessions of conventional body-weight exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups for more complex and interesting whole-body strength exercises.
Animal movements and other whole-body challenges now dominate. Strength-based obstacle courses prove extremely popular with the kids.
One such activity that is really popular sees the kids bear crawl on hands and feet through an obstacle course that they have created, staying within the boundaries of lane lines, and avoiding touching any of the obstacles. (See image below).
Compared to conventional body-weight exercises, these movement challenges reduce the need for monotonous repetition and have more scope to be made into an exciting challenge or game.
Movement challenges are more motivating.
Try to build your repertoire of movement challenges. I would love to hear what you come up with!
Lesson 3: Younger Kids Like Games; Older Kids Prefer Challenges
At the conclusion of a coaching session, I will routinely ask the kids what they most enjoyed.
I have noticed an interesting trend.
Up to the age of about 10, the kids tended to pick the game-based activities as their favourite parts of the session. Older kids tended to cite the more challenging aspects of a session.
For example, younger kids are more likely to select a tag game whereas the older athletes might select a difficult strength-based obstacle course.
I have found this really interesting and informative when it came to planning sessions for different age groups.
It has made me prioritise games when coaching the younger age groups and ensure sufficient challenge when coaching the older kids.
It has reinforced to me that coaches need to understand the characteristics of the age group with which they are working and deliver activities accordingly. The focus and the content of the session have to change with the audience.
Consider the characteristics of the kids you coach.
Think extensively about the characteristics of the kids you coach and plan sessions to suit them. Include lots of games for those groups consisting of kids ten years and under, and sufficient challenge for those kids eleven years and older. Let me know how it goes!
- External coaching cues are more effective.
- Movement challenges are more motivating as strength training.
- Younger athletes like games while older athletes prefer challenges.
If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.
Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Anchor or via email.