Limits On The Effectiveness of Cues

I came across this Facebook posting from fellow coach Dan Bell of Rubber City Weightlifting: 

Dear CrossFit coaches,
While we greatly appreciate CF and all it has done for the barbell sports, and weightlifting in particular, please stop telling your athletes "Hips to the bar!" when coaching the Olympic lifts, most especially the snatch. This is wrong. While it is giving weightlifting coaches lots of work, it is also giving us lots of headaches trying to fix the motor pattern that results from this cue and the thousands of sub-par reps that follow.

All weightlifting coaches (probably

I heartily concur with Dan on this one and for more than the stated reason.  I see this phenomenon as just another example of the misguided reasoning behind the over reliance on coaching cues. 

Somewhere along the way lots of people who should know better have bought into the idea that for each technical error there is a cue to correct it, and if you, as the coach, provide that cue then the problem will be solved and there will be no further need to think about it. 

As an example, at many competitions (including some national level ones), I hear coaches telling their athletes that miss jerks in front to “stick your head through”.  Now losing a jerk in front can be the result of pushing with the arms too soon because of insufficient leg drive, or from improper footwork in the split.  If, however, the coach in question has been taught to always remediate that fault with the same cue, there is no thinking going on.  The athlete ends up on the losing end.  End of story. 

I would advise newer coaches to consider the following:

·       You are to coach the cause of the technical error, not just the error.

·       Cues work some of the time.

·       A given cue can be interpreted differently by different individuals.

·       If your cue doesn’t work, try another one.

·       In competition, make sure you’ve diagnosed the cause of the problem correctly and then provided the cue that will most effectively help to fix that cause.   While this suggestion also applies to training, it is even more crucial to get it right in the heat of battle.

·       A cue is judged by how effectively it conveys an action to the athlete.  If you see a cue from some big time coach working with his or her athlete that is especially effective, it may not work with your own athlete.  I’ve seen very effective coaching done through gestures and sounds, so don’t be hesitant to try to figure out what works best.

The point of all this is to encourage coaches to be more thoughtful and get away from a color by numbers approach to coaching.  No successful coach that I’ve ever encountered has chosen that pathway.