When an athlete is learning or correcting improper technique it is critical for coaches to limit the amount of instruction given. Many studies on attentional focus in sports have shown that focusing on more than one source of information has been noted to impair athletic performance. Also, take into account competition, where the athlete must have the mental strength to block out distractions. These two areas present a major challenge where only the strongest athletes in both areas are usually successful. Therefore, the goal of learning new mechanics is mastering the technique to the point where the athlete can execute the skill automatically with very little to no focus on it.
One effective way of teaching a skill is to use a whiteboard in the athlete’s practice environment. With the whiteboard, the coach has control of writing down what skills the athlete needs to focus on. It is important that the coach uses as few words or phrases as possible (1 to 2 words per instruction at most). Example, if the athlete needs to turn their shoulders more, you would write down “turn shoulders” or just “shoulders”. Also, it helps to debrief the athlete about the technique before starting this training method to ensure that the athlete has a complete understanding of each of the written instructional commands.
The advantage of this training tool is that the athlete can indulge their focus on a few simple words or commands without becoming overwhelmed by too much verbal instruction. In addition, the whiteboard gives the athlete more freedom and leadership in being able to select which technique he or she wants to focus on first.
The picture above is an example of how the whiteboard can be used in a practice environment. First, there should be no more than 5 technical areas to master in the overall training session. Second, the athlete is instructed to only focus on one of the techniques at a time until he or she has mastered the movement. Once the athlete has mastered the movement he or she may choose another technical area to focus on. The goal is for the athlete to be able to eventually eliminate most or all of the technical commands. For each command that is mastered the coach can either erase it or put a line through it. Removing the command should also be reinforced with positive praise to the athlete identifying another step forward to reaching their goals.
To read more from Patrick Albán B.S., M.S., visit goSPMI.com.