There is such a thing as over-coaching. Spewing out coaching cues at an athlete while they are trying to learn a skill or perform a given movement can sometimes have worse effects than if we just kept our mouth shut. This is particularly true when we a) provide more than one coaching cue at a time (“Chest up! knee’s out! hips back! feet flat!”) or b) draw too much attention of internal mechanisms (“Direct force into the floor by extending the knee with your quardriceps, while simultaneous creating powerful hip extension with your glutes and proximal hamstrings”. The former problem (a) is simply too many cues for the athlete to handle in a given set, or worse, a given rep. The latter (b) creates paralysis by analysis whereby the athlete over-thinks the movement and ends up with suboptimal performance. As coaches, we need to find the appropriate balance of providing effective cueing in as few words possible and let the athlete do a little trial and error.
Some new research published in the April edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research supports this idea that less is more when it comes to cueing athletes for sprint training. Porter and colleagues had 84 undergraduate students (non-athletes) perform three 20 m sprint trials on separate days in a randomized, counter-balanced manner. Of the three sprint trials, one served as a control where athletes were simply encouraged to run as fast as they could. Another served as the internal focus trial where subjects were told “ “While you are running the 20-m dash focus on driving 1 leg forward as powerfully as possible while moving your other leg and foot down and back as quickly as possible as you accelerate.” The other trial served as the external focus trial where subjects were told “While you are running the 20-meter dash focus on driving forward as powerfully as possible while clawing the floor with your shoe as quickly as possible as you accelerate.”
The results showed that external cueing resulted in significantly faster sprint times than internal cueing (p= 0.039, effect size = 0.22). The average sprint time for the external focus group was 3.75 s while the mean for the internal focus group was 3.87 s. Interestingly, the time for the control group was not significantly different than the external focus group however this was due to low as the mean was identical to the internal focus group (3.87 s). This study reinforces the theory that athletes tend to respond better to external focus coaching cues. Focus on the bigger picture of the movement and its main objective.
Porter, J. M., Wu, W. F., Crossley, R. M., Knopp, S. W., & Campbell, O. C. (2015). Adopting an External Focus of Attention Improves Sprinting Performance in Low-Skilled Sprinters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(4), 947-953.