By Brian Slugocki

The best-designed programs in the world are meaningless if we aren’t able to get athletes/clients to do them. I believe our job as coaches is to help clients create meaningful, lasting change in their peoples lives while guiding them towards achieving their desired goals. There are many ways to accomplish this task and these are a few thoughts on creating the best possible scenario for success.

To start, we need clients to “buy in” to what we want to accomplish, which is brought about by trust and understanding. One-way to achieve this is through a strategy called the 3 + 1cs, which is a framework for relationship building.

 The first C-Closeness– Athletes/clients need to feel like they can share things with you, talk with you. Being “stoic” and reserved makes it tough for people to read you which in turn doesn’t make them feel connected to you. I believe that players are more willing to go that extra mile when they feel like they are cared for.

Complementary– Give and take, have a balance of what you want and what they want. Give the client choices in their workout, give them the perception that they have some control. Little things such as letting them choose between using a kettlebell or a dumbbell give the client a sense of autonomy in their workout.

While some people at our gym liked to be told exactly what to do and how to do it, I feel like there are those who would benefit from making a few more choices regarding their workout

Commitment– Nobody wants to work with trainers or coaches who seem like they are just there to get paid or because they have to. Showing an unconditional commitment to your clients goes a long way. We don’t know what is going on in their lives away from the gym and it is our responsibility to be there for them and support them.

Co-orientation– is defined by the interaction and concurrence of the three constructs stated before. Summed up when an athlete and coach feel like they are both respected, understood and on the same page, real progress toward any desired goal can better be achieved.

Here now are a few strategies that coaches can use when training clients.

When instructing/demonstrating: There are two methods of instructing-one method is providing athletes with a verbal cue with either an emphasis on internal focus or external focus. Research has shown that providing athletes with external cues over internal cues results in fewer errors and reduces consciousness. By reducing consciousness, we free up more attentional resources, which can used to further the efficiency and automaticity of a movement skill.

Examples- When teaching a rotational exercise instead of saying rotate your upper body and use your hips to throw, you could say “throw this like you would hit tennis ball” or “drive through the ball like your hitting a golf ball or “SNAP your hips” emphasis on the snap.

Another example when teaching using the sled-instead of saying fully extend your legs and keep your hips down you could say, drive/push the ground away, explode the sled out/away.

The second method of instructing involves demonstrating, there are two ways to do this. The first would be to personally demonstrate the movement skill as the expert. Some research has shown that watching an expert do a movement compared to verbal instruction, results in earlier acquisition of that skill. The second way is to have a client watch a novice do it.  While generally it is better to have an expert to demonstrate, there is research that shows the value in watching novices perform the movement.  It allows the client to look for specific errors, promotes problem solving as well as has the potential to create partner coaching which creates a group cohesiveness as well.

Using Analogies: Using analogies when demonstrating or instructing allows for the clients to better understand certain movements. This is part of the using external cues when coaching. For example, when coaching the acceleration phase of a sprint-is it easier to understand “after your first three steps I want you to start being more upright and eventually be fully upright” or “I want you to imagine that you are like a fighter jet taking off of a runway”. Most people when given that cue have an immediate image in their mind of what that looks like(Gradual vertical increase).  When teaching jumping movements you could say “touch the sky” or “snap the ground away” instead of saying “explode through your hips” or “snap your ankles” By using analogies we are trying to prime their system for the movement ahead. We want athletes to think, “Oh I know what the looks like, I can do that”. Once again, this goes back to not taking up a lot of the precious attentional resource that we have such limited quantities of.

Feedback: When giving feedback there is one strategy that I have used most when working with athletes. I learned this by reading about legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden, who won 10 college basketball national championships. Wooden was an expert in many things however one area that I found particularly interesting is how he gave feedback or coaching to his players. He was famous for giving very short speeches and being direct in his coaching. His strategy consisted of “Do this, not this, do this”. It can be viewed as a positive remark followed by a correction and finishes with a positive (Can also be used to demonstrate movements). When I use this phrase coaching hockey, I generally say something like this “I really liked how you used your feet to beat the defender and go to the net, next time try making the pass sooner though to beat the D but I liked your effort in trying to make the play”. I try and be very exact in what I liked or didn’t like. My goal isn’t to use the most amount of words to get my point across rather I want to use the minimum effective dose to achieve my desired change. Once again this goes back to not taking up the precious attentional resources. I think we all have had coaches that take 10 minutes to make their point with winding twists and turns before eventually landing on something meaningful. By taking that much time you have lost the players interest.

I would love to hear any strategies other coaches have used in working with clients.

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