Have you ever been to a seminar, clinic, or special event to listen to a speaker or series of speakers talking about issues involving their particular industries? If so, have their been instances where you didn’t understand what the speaker was talking about? How about in the gymnastics or other sports industries where you listen to experts talk about technical issues or skill development and the content is difficult to understand? This is not uncommon and I personally have experienced these problems.
In this discussion, I will focus on the importance of communicating in a way that your audience will understand and take away priceless knowledge that will help with improvement and growth.
There are many different levels of activity in every type of sport and each level has it’s own set of rules, training methods, and curriculum. These levels range from beginners through the most advanced. No matter what the level of group the coach is working with, it is critical that the coach is communicating to that particular group in a way that the students can understand. For example, a coach would not want to talk to an advanced group of older athletes as if they were pre-schoolers and vise versa.
Since the sports of gymnastics and tumbling is so complex in skill development, the coaches need to have the knowledge that is appropriate for coaching their particular level. This is so important for the positive growth of each student. But what may be even more important is how that coach communicates to the student. What may make sense to the coach in teaching a skill or making a correction may not make any sense to the athlete.
For those coaches out there, how often have you made numerous statements to a student to correct a problem and the student has not make the correction? Frustrating isn’t it?!! Even simple corrections, like straightening of the legs, or arching of the back? What I have found over the years, is that in many cases, the student has no idea what your talking about. How do you find out? You ask them if they know what you mean. You’ll be amazed at how many will say “No”. If I have a student that is bending their legs on a cartwheel I will often ask them, “do you feel your legs bending?” Often they will say no. It’s then I realized that it is important to communicate that they need to focus on that one particular issue in order to fix it. If they can feel their legs bending eventually they will be able to make the correction to straighten their legs. It is only then that the coach can communicate in a different manner, break the skill down, and explain in a way that the student will understand. With this new understanding, the student can begin to make the correction. This is why it is so critical that the coach has the knowledge to teach the skills they are teaching.
Fixing bad habits is a constant struggle for many coaches, especially on the recreational side of sports. We get new students from other programs that were not taught correctly or students who are self taught. How are habits made? Consistency. The coaches objective is to change from a bad habit to a good habit. How? Again, Consistency. Coaches need to make the correction every time the student performs the skill. I have seen often, in programs I have visited, coaches having their students go through their curriculum and workout with little verbal communication to the students. This allows the student to consistently perform their skills in the same manner every time- thus reinforcing bad habits.
I make it a priority to instruct my staff to make a comment each time a student performs a skill. Whether it is a correction or a praise in their performance. We never communicate in a threatening, deeming, or negative manner. Our communication is always based on being positive and providing constructive criticism in making corrections. Students should never be yelled at, called out, or treated in a negative way. My philosophy has always been: If you love what you are doing, hard work becomes easy and you will naturally be motivated to improve yourself. We want to create the most positive environment for our students. If this is accomplished, the students will more likely stay with the program and take their ability as far as they can go.