The Problems With Over Coaching (And Some Solutions)
A few weeks ago I Tweeted something to the effect of “Don’t be afraid to let your clients figure things out for themselves. Not every rep has to be a pristine vision that makes the Virgin Mary weep tears of joy.”
I gave the example of the knees caving in during a squat. Many coaches see this and they start hyperventilating into a paper bag no matter what.
I keep it real.
There’s a stark difference between the knees caving in TO neutral and caving in to the point where someone falls into excessive valgus.
Anyways, my little rant inspired Baltimore based strength coach (and fellow Lord of the Rings nerd), Erica Suter, to write a guest post.
It’s pretty baller.
The Problems With Over Coaching (And Some Solutions)
Sit your butt back.
Keep your chest out.
Put your shoulders back.
Engage your lats.
Wait, pretend there are tennis balls under your arm pits.
Squeeze your glutes too.
Did you get all of that?
Does this sound like you as a coach? Let’s hope not.
Too many cues have their way of confusing and frustrating our clients. More often than not, they become overwhelming. Worse yet, they become too much information for people to process during a session, let alone, mid-lift.
Don’t get me wrong: correcting people is a good thing. We wouldn’t be coaches if we didn’t coach. To that end, we have to instruct people so they are executing pristine form and progressing.
However, too much instructing, over-coaching, over-cueing, or saying-shit-just-to-say-shit-and-hear-yourself-talk, is problematic.
Over-coaching is real and it permeates across the fitness industry as one of the biggest issues, besides perfectly staged selfies in yoga pants on a beach:
So why is over-coaching bad?
Problem 1: Too many Cues Confuses People.
Since clients are performing complex movements that excite the nervous system, the last thing they need is someone barking orders at them.
As an example, there’s already so much going on in a client’s mind during the deadlift:
Chest out, butt back, Megan Fox is hot, credit card bill due tomorrow, get kids from school, breathe, shoulders back, if only I could marry Megan Fox.
You see how stimulated their mind is already?
So a coach adding 5-10 things for them to fix is bound to go in one ear and out the other.
Solution: Focus on the most glaring mistakes.
Try and keep it to one to two cues, too.
You may find that one cue is what works the magic for multiple problems. As an example when you see a client with a “rounded back,” this happens because the client fails to engage their lates, sink their hips back, or keep their chest proud.
One magic cue could be “project your chest like Superman” or you can go as far to as to give them tennis balls to actually squeeze under their arm pits so they can adjust their posture.
Or to touch on a more tactile cue (no pun intended), for this pallof drag, the only thing my athlete needed in order to maintain and athletic stance was put a mini band above her knees:
Again, sometimes one thing fixes EVERYTHING.
Problem 2: There’s Nothing Worse Than Being Told How Wrong You Are.
And I get it. People fuck up. But over-coaching makes them to feel like failures.
As an example, I had a client unable to back squat. And no matter how many fancy cues, various demonstrations, correctives, and prayers to the squat Gods I threw out there, he couldn’t get it down and told me he felt like a failure because he couldn’t squat.
So instead of saying, “sorry, squats are off limits,” we had to change things up.
Solution: Realize some people need a variation on a basic movement in order to “get it.”
What my client needed to get more depth and hip mobility in his squat was front loading.
So we tried this gem from strength coach Joel Seedman:
Not only did it help him better groove the squat position, it also helped him not feel like a failure that is banned from squats forever.
Will he progress to back squats one day? I’d argue never say never.
Problem 3: Over-Coaching Doesn’t Give People Autonomy.
Sure, they hired you to hold their hand, but allowing clients to gain independence helps them gain confidence back in themselves.
People aren’t paying coaches to have a babysitter. They’re paying coaches to get strong, instill confidence back in themselves, and be able to go out into the wild alone at times, namely, do shit themselves.
Solution: It shouldn’t be a surprise that you should allow them to fix it themselves.
This much I know: people’s bodies are awkward.
They’re also capable of amazing feats of strength and movement and exploration. The body plays mysterious tricks on us and surprises us with its abilities.
Oftentimes, I may have an athlete struggling with a movement like the dumbbell snatch on Day One. And saying coaches cues, sprinkling fairy dust on them, and performing wizardry still won’t work.
With that said, I’ll give them one cue, and if it still looks like shit, I’ll leave the facility, go get a burger, go to bed, and come back the next day, and boom….their snatch is flawless.
Again, the body is amazing and people can be capable of fixing themselves after they learn a movement, fuck it up and learn and feel what NOT to do, sleep on it, and come back with good form.
One More Thing: Please don’t toss out too many cues just to say shit. Sometimes, the best coaches are able to sit back, observe, drop one knowledge bomb, and exit stage right.
Let your clients work their magic and trust me when I say keep it simple.
After all, simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.