The Coach’s Communication Triangle

There are three ways in which people learn and one of the common mistakes you can make as a coach can is to teach others only through your preferred lens.

We can make this mistake by either forcing our goals and beliefs on others, or, inadvertently always making our default teaching method the way that we best learn, not necessarily the room. A critical concept to understand is that not everyone learns in the manner, and as a coach, it’s vital that you have a grasp on all three forms of teaching.

Visual – Those who learn best by watching someone demonstrate a movement. A study conducted by the Social Science Network published in Forbes magazine found that 65% of the population are visual learners. We must include this component to our coaching, less we ignore how the majority of our athletes best learn.

Coaching Triangle
Auditory – Those who learn best by hearing someone discuss important cues in a movement.

Tactile – Those who learn best by touching and being moved into correct positioning in a movement.

You must be able to efficiently demonstrate the movement (visual), properly articulate cues to help the athlete make the connection (auditory), and then be able to make physical adjustments to finish it off (tactile).

Step 1: Visual Learning

With 65% of the population favoring a visual demonstration, visual learning is the most impactful form of communication we can employ as coaches. To make this point, think about trying to communicate to someone without words of any kind. Like charades, we are usually able to get the job done through effective visualization when words and touching are unavailable.

In our walkthrough, or prep phase of the workout, we demonstrate a visual of how we want the movement to be performed. This is called feedforwarding. If you think about what feedback is, this would be the opposite. Rather than correct something after it has occured (feedback), we are creating successful movement before execution takes place (feedforward).

Brain conceptualization precedes movement action, so the act of allowing athletes to visualize the correct movement will have a significant impact on performing it correctly. It creates autogenic training where they see can see themselves in action and create successful movement pattern before it happens. This mental mapping puts feedforward mechanisms in place, whereby the cerebellum of the brain corrects and reorganizes motor commands before they reach the muscles. Daily visual teaching is extremely important.

Step 2: Auditory Learning

While we are demonstrating what we want the swing to look like, we add in an auditory  cue to our description. Something like, “violent hip extension at the top of the swing.” Now, the athlete is mapping the movement visually by seeing what you are doing, and they are assigning an action to it based on your deliberate usage of the word, “violent.” They are now going to have a very sound idea of what the hip action should be when they go to perform it.

Step 3: Tactile Learning

While visual communication is the most effective form of teaching, the most effective form of correction is to touch your athletes and provide them with tactile feedback. Once the athlete is moving, the last step might be to place your hand in front of their kneecap on the swings to ensure they aren’t too squatty on their hinge. Always be looking for ways to provide your athletes with tactile cues. This behavior is what separates the good coaches from the great. There are tactile opportunities in every class and it’s up to you to find them.

You are not a highly effective coach until you can master the skill and art of all three.

ASSIGNMENT: In your next class, try to determine your default comfort zone. Conversely, what do avoid out of discomfort?

-Dave Thomas


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