Long Reads: A Look at Coaching Cues in the Throws.

Overview:

Perception is life. In throwing perception is dependent upon communication. Communication between Coach and Athlete. Communication between Athlete and Body. Communication between what is seen and heard and what is thought and executed. The way we speak is fundamental in the way we perceive and develop thoughts, and so it is imperative in Coaching The Throws to have an excellent lexicon and understanding practiced between Coach and Athlete.

Analysis:

This can be easily misconstrued as a wealthy knowledge and understand of kinesiology, physics and anatomy. Often times we see a rich and deep analysis of a portion of an athlete’s technique and we derive our coaching cues from such examples. But anybody can see what another person is doing and anybody can say ‘their right foot is turning, we must think about turning the right foot’ when in actuality their right foot is turning and we should think ‘what actions are occurring which are resulting in the right foot turning in this throw?’ Of course the right leg is in action throughout a shot put throw, but is this an action of the athlete turning his foot or a reaction of another action of the athlete and in turn his foot rotates?

The other day I was watching one of my athletes work on their discus throw and I asked them what they were thinking about, what they were working on and how they would fix it; there was an issue in their final position that was limiting their movement in the final portion of the throw. I asked what was wrong with it and they replied along the lines of ‘my right foot is stuck, my right shoulder is too far forward and so I can’t finish the throw’. I asked how they would fix it and they responded that they would ‘turn my foot and keep my shoulder back’. I asked them what they would think of to achieve this and they said they would think about ‘turning my foot and keeping my shoulder back.’ Quite simple…

My issue is that the speed at which the body parts movie in an optimal throw as compared to the brains ability to generate, transmit and execute such a refined command of movements is much too slow, and to achieve the proper execution of these movements and motions a more simple, a more broad cue might be thought of to induce the same results but in a more passive, dynamic fashion.

(The same phenomenon occurs in the programming of athletes when we see that an athlete has a 400lbs bench and can throw the shot put 70 feet; many assume that we must always be able to bench press 400lbs on any given day rather than understanding that the peak performance of a 70 foot throw may result in the athlete being able to achieve a 400lb bench press given the same condition[ and even to an extent that a 400lbs bench press is the reason for a 70 foot shot put throw and not that a 70 foot shot put throw may allow you to develop the capabilities to bench 400lbs.])

I believe the art of cueing has been lost as science has begun to dominate our development of young people in this country. I believe that Coaches and athletes should work together to establish feelings or symbols that can communicate complex movements, motions and positions. I believe that we are looking at everything through a microscope when we should be looking at it through our mind’s eye.

G. Martin Bingisser gave the best example of this in a blog her wrote years ago that I still remember to this day (you can read here: http://www.hmmrmedia.com/2010/07/ask-martin-vol-4/). In it he tells a story about a guy wanting to eat a piece of broccoli and he says that the guy can think about opening his hand…rotating his wrist…lifting his forearm…bending his elbow.. extending his shoulder…lowering his shoulder, closing his fingers to grasp the fork…rotating the writs….curling his elbow…rotating and lifting his shoulder as it moves over his plate…so on and so forth until he has eaten his broccoli. His second example is just this: Think about picking up your fork and ‘eat(ing) the broccoli’.

The point is we don’t need to make it as complicated as it seems, it can be as simple as a one word thought, or look or gesture to induce a series of complicated dynamics (and many times we must not even be pre-trained in these steps). Often times I’ve given 1st day hammer throwers the hammer and said ‘show me what you think it’s supposed to look like’ often times their body knows what it’s doing and other times it needs some awareness built; but for the most part for most people we need to understand that our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for and we should listen to them more often, give them more freedom and time in learning and to feed them when they are hungry.



Cueing in Competition:

The art of cueing has to be reflective of your competitive environment: in team sports like basketball and football coaches signal in with words, hand signal and sometimes images to communicate to their athletes what they should be doing without the other team becoming aware. In track this is similar simply because most coaches don’t want other coaches or athletes to know what they are doing to achieve certain performances: ‘Her Coach said jump in final, they must do a lot of jumps, that’s they’re throwing so far, let’s do more jumps in practice.’

At the Olympics coaches are up in the stands with the fans and athletes can hardly see any refined movements and so cues need to be general motions, general thoughts and if you and your athlete are on the same page you both will already know what needs to be fixed. A large issue comes with the athletes who are unaware or overly aware of what their bodies are doing and it is through intensive training that a coach should work at numbing or sensitizing the athlete to these peculiarities. Cues should come with a sweep of the hand, a turn of the shoulder, a nod of the head or with no acknowledgement at all, these motions by the coach should pertain to general ideas of the throw that induce the complex movements we dissect on coaches eye and youtube.

At the NCAA level and below most coaches can be in relatively close contact with their athletes at all times and so vocal cues are much more viable options, but again, often times we get too small with our words and offer a chain of commands which disjoint the throw. Vocal cues should be a simple word or sound or attitude that an athlete can translate and relate to previous experiences. While I’ve been guilty of diving into a chain of movements (who hasn’t?) I am more often more guilty of a more baron grunt or gaze to communicate my like or dislike for a throw leaving my athletes staring at me for something they understand. The key is during your training to establish a communication and understand what each other’s actions and reactions symbolize to them resulting ina pidgin language you can both understand.



Cueing in Training:

One of the biggest difficulties in the American system is the constant flux of coaches an athlete has during their short careers. The biggest error that is made is the unwillingness to learn the other’s language. I’ve experienced this on both ends and I have found that the Coach/Athlete who is unwilling to change is usually the Coach or athlete who will fail. It can be as simple as an athlete not acknowledging the difference between a ‘pull’ and a ‘push’ that can divide an entire opportunity for success. Often times when saying ‘pull’ or ‘push’ people mean the same thing but don’t realize it and other times people both say ‘push’ and mean two completely different things. Communication is key and if you cannot communicate you will struggle, not just in throwing but in life.

In elite training groups cuing can be more simple during practice; there is 1-5 athletes, all of high ability and so it is easy to get on the same page and zero in on a part of the throw that day. Often times in NCAA or high school we are not as lucky because we have 10, 20, 30, or more athletes that we must work with on a given day. The best way to handle this large situation is to divide practice by ability and event and if numbers are still large then something as simple as having the athlete remind you of your previous comment before they throw can aid in your fluidity of coaching.

The most successful cuing I have achieved through training has occurred through a regime of film sessions and throwing sessions where the athlete and I can break down what we have to do, go out and do it then come back and discuss the results. This is hard to do but it through meetings like this that we are able to achieve everything that I’ve touch upon above. It is through times like these that you build relationships with athletes and coaches and this yields good results both in competition and training and in life.



Cueing and Programming:

As I have eluded to in the above many of the processes in coaching is braided together and often time barriers are blurred; whether this is defining where technical training ends and physical training begins or deciphering where mental/emotion stimulus is impacting results as opposed to physiological stimulus. One of those areas in which I will touch upon is the understanding of peaks and valleys. In my programming our athletes go through high highs and low lows and to do this athletes must be confident, have a high level of belief in themselves and faith and trust with their coach and their training. In other training methods some are afraid to dive into these valleys (why would we want to go down? We are trying to go up!) and because of this they operate at a plateau and while they do rise they become stunted, blunted and gaudy.

Valleys make you humble, valleys make you uncomfortable, valleys make you see what you are made of and help you understand why you do what you are doing. If you’re too afraid to go down that hill you aren’t strong enough to climb that mountain. It is through valleys that we grow and develop muscle strength, nervous system capability, cojones and the mental and emotion disposition to realize results during this time which result in us experiencing high peaks. This physiological experience goes hand in hand with learning cues and interpreting results vital in establishing a battle plan for high performances.

Often times when doing something new for the first time you fail, whether it’s footwork, body weight shift, a lift, a cue, a math equation, etc. Often times it is most easy in sport to toss away a cue or means/method which does not work the first time but I believe it is imperative as in training our bodies to train our minds for the proper cues. It is all a matter of opportunity, how many opportunities do you have? How much time do you have between these opportunities? Are the environmental conditions ample enough to allow you to take advantage of these opportunities well enough to achieve the desired result? It’s tough and varies from athlete to athlete and sport to sport but in track and field and with throwers it is imperative to take a high number of throws to build your awareness throughout these opportunities to fully explore the depth of a cue and its effect on your performance capabilities.



How To Effectively Build Your Cuing Ability:

  1. Know your competitive environment and timeline

  2. Know your training environment and timeline

  3. Know your athletes, their histories and their desired futures

  4. Design a training plan with clear targets and goals

  5. Establish periods of communication and periods void of communication in training

  6. During periods of communication investigate all phenomenon

  7. During periods void of communication let your athletes struggle

  8. Following training sessions or performances review experiences

  9. Following the completion of an evaluation period devise new cues, training goals and targets.

  10. Record Data well.