Athletes aren’t robots. As it’s highly unlikely that an athlete will be able to perform every movement to the exact coaching model we have in our minds, it’s therefore inevitable that we’ll see flaws and inefficiencies in technique on a daily basis. So what do you do if a movement isn’t quite right? Do you let things slide or do you step in? To put it another way, when shouldn’t you coach?
The pursuit of mastery
As coaches we want to guide our athletes towards mastery, performing movements not just correctly, but perfectly. However, we also want to enthuse our athletes about training and to enjoy the time they spend with us. Letting athletes know that they’re not meeting our ideal model can be demoralising, regardless how of you sugar coat the feedback.
We need to be particularly mindful of this when coaching novice athletes. Athletes with low skill levels are less resilient to negative feedback and we can run the risk of spoiling the enjoyment factor. Might we be better off letting some things slide, at least in the short-term, in order to keep their motivation up?
I think that judging when to step is determined by the answers to four key questions:
Question 1 – Could it be dangerous?
If the answer is yes then naturally you’ll have to step in and sort things out as a priority. How quickly you step in will obviously depend on the degree of danger; hopefully you’ll have given the athlete an exercise variation with a suitable degree of both complexity and risk for their skill level. For example, slight valgus during a light goblet squat doesn’t really compare to it occurring during a heavy snatch. Ideally you’d want to give them a few reps to see if they correct it themselves.
Question 2 – How far from the model are they?
Is there something drastically wrong with the movement or is it just slightly off? It’s up to you to decide how much of an issue any technical failing may be and judge whether you need to flag it up or not.
Question 3 – Are there worse things going on?
Are you going mention to an athlete that they’re deadlifting with bent arms if they’re also rounding their lower back when they pick up the weight? If you’re correcting an athlete you need to address at one component at a time or you run the risk of overloading them with coaching points.
Question 4 – Have I corrected other exercises in the session?
If I’d been doing a lot of technical work on an exercise like a squat at the start of the session then I’d be reluctant to jump on any minor flaws that occur later on in the session. Try to set them up to succeed in their supplementary work with some less complex movements that allow them to ‘train’ a little harder. I think it’s important to let an athlete leave the gym on a positive and with a feeling of accomplishment.
In my opinion, knowing when not to coach is an integral part of coaching. I also think that it’s one of the hardest things to learn. In the second part of this article we’ll go into a bit more depth on some of these points and look at some of the additional factors which may impact on when you do correct and when you don’t.