When Not To Coach (Part Two)

There are some things you have to learn on the job when it comes to coaching, knowing when to correct and when to step back is definitely one of them. In the first part of this double header I introduced four questions for you consider before jumping in, if you missed it then check it out here.

Today we’ll go into a bit more depth regarding some of the considerations you need to make as well as also looking at how we can potentially avoid this type of dilemma.

Teach S&C ‘principles’ before movements

Certain principles are common to a wide range of movements. Hip hinging, pushing the knees out, packing the shoulder, controlling pelvic inclination… you get the picture. Much like a good polo shirt, if you have these in your locker you can apply them to almost every conceivable situation. If you know when you want to teach specific movements then you can hopefully precede them by laying down the principles that the athlete will need to employ within them.

Regress + progress = success

If a movement isn’t up to par then your intended action plan should be:

  1. Make the athlete aware of the problem
  2. Provide them with the coaching to rectify it
  3. Regress the movement

Regression shouldn’t generally be your first port of call, however, if you want to avoid correcting an athlete then it’s a good idea to set them up with movements that they can perform well.

Let’s use the clean as an example. You’ve set up your programme and you want your athlete to perform cleans from the floor. You know that they can lift well from the floor but at the moment their first pull is a little ropey and inconsistent. Regress to a less complex movement, such as a clean from hang, and note down what you’ll need to come back and address at another point in time.

You can’t correct max effort movements

This leads on nicely from the last point. The production of maximal force requires a focus on the production of maximal force. The act of correction will naturally give the athlete something else to think about and nine times out of ten will reduce their potential to produce force. Know that if you are correcting the big motor potential exercises it’s unlikely that you’ll be getting the type of training stimulus you programmed for.

Cue, don’t correct

Whilst you may not be able to directly ‘correct’ max effort movements, you may still be able to cue athletes out of problems. Because cues are all catch-all term that encompass a wide range of coaching points they not only facilitate more efficient coaching, they almost hide the fact that you may be correcting something. Cues need to be short, powerful and delivered with confidence.

Effective cueing

Research (check out Gabriele Wulf’s body of work on this in particular) is pretty unanimous in demonstrating that cues directing an external focus result in greater performances than cues directing an internal focus; the same goes for learning. Make sure that you’ve previously ‘set-up’ your cue by introducing it in advance and know that your athlete is able to apply it effectively.

How much training time do you have?

One of the most important considerations needs to be where the athlete is in their competition schedule. Correction and technical work is great when you have the time period required to develop these qualities, not so much when the athlete is gearing up for competition.

What’s the psychological impact of correction?

I’m sure every S&C coach wants to believe that their athletes love the weight room but, however shocking it may be, some athletes just don’t. You need to be able to approach situations in a different manner when you’re working with athletes with low gym motivation; these athletes can’t tolerate the same level of correction as those with more of a mastery orientated mind-set. Who knows, maybe if you can set them up with successes and positivity in their S&C then the passion and motivation may grow within them?


Hopefully this little two-parter has given you a few things to think about when it comes to correcting athletes. Whilst the clichés do ring true – in that coaching is a craft that you must develop through practical experience – gaining more knowledge and reflecting on your own practices will enhance your development beyond what may be achieved through coaching alone.

Coaching, Exercises, Performance, Psychology, Youth Training , , , , , , ,

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