Coaching athletes… What we say matters

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Coaching athletes… What we say matters

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May 9, 2017

Sports Performance, Speed, Agility, Youth sports trainingSports Performance: Coaching, Talking, Hearing, Listening…

Over the last 10 years or so as a healthcare provider and a  sports performance coach, I’ve been privileged to learn from some of the best teachers in both sports performance and rehabilitative/restorative approaches. One theme that stands out and continues to be a common thread in both of these worlds is that as a coach or a rehab specialist, what we say when working with a patient or athlete, matters.



“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence” – Leonardo da Vinci


One of the best things we can do as a coach or therapist when it comes to helping a patient or athlete with skill acquisition, is to be silent. Task>Talk. We have to remember how brilliantly designed our brain, nervous system and body is. Our brain is incredibly efficient at self-organization and motor learning.

We do not always need to be talking to be an effective coach. Sometimes, demonstration of the skill or drill with a long period of silence is the best approach to help an athlete learn a new motor skill. Different forms and timing of feedback have been studied rigorously, especially in recent years. What we know is that, regardless of intent… timing, word choice and types of cues can either be beneficial or detrimental to progress when working with an athlete or patient. Allowing an athlete to “figure it out” and allowing them to “fail through” is often a great way to help someone learn a new skill without interrupting the learning process. The athlete or patient is always the priority and our constant feedback can be an interference to motor learning and skill acquisition.

Internal vs. External Cues

An example of the difference between internal or external cueing when teaching maximal velocity might sound something like this… “Drive the knee up”(internal) vs. “Run like you’re stepping over tall grass”(external). Recent research has shown that there might be a slight edge given to external cues being used to evoke the qualities we’re looking for in a movement. Internal cues can certainly be effective in certain situations, so we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Effective coaching in sports performance comes down to watching and understanding how each individual athlete responds to different cues.


For more information on our approach to long term athlete development, visit:


Dr. Robert M. Lane B.s. D.C.

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