What is a coaching cue?
Coaching cues are pieces of information used by a coach to teach an athlete to perform a task or skill. Successful coaching is down to how the coach communicates with the athlete, and if the cues being used are simple and effective. Cues that are too long and/or complex are too complicated and are unlikely to teach the athlete the desired skill. (Benz, Winkelman, Porter and Nimphius, 2016)
A coach will most likely use cues for a specific part of the skill/task being taught, for example, “get tall” when teaching Olympic lifting. If teaching a new skill, simple and effective cues are important as you don’t want to overload the athlete with a load of instructions but need them to focus on one particular point. This is known as attentional focus and is an important part of skill acquisition. (Winkelman, 2018)
There are 3 main types of coaching cues:
- Internal cues
- External cues
- Normal cues
Internal cues focus on the body movement required within the skill;
- Knees out
- Bend from the hips
- Extend through the hips, knees, and ankle
These internal types of cues can come at a cost though. The use of body part cueing makes the athlete focus on that part of their body and therefore it can disrupt the athlete’s automatic control over their body’s movement process. (Wulf, McNevin and Shea, 2001)
We are not saying that these types of cues are not useful, just be aware of what research has pointed to and if you use them then make sure you get the desired effect without affecting the rest of the movement.
External cues are used to get the athlete to focus on the movements effect or outcome;
- Push the ground away
- Explode upwards towards the ceiling
- Get tall
These types of cues encourage the athlete to focus more on the outcome of the movement rather than the actions needed to perform it (internal). It is believed external cues reduce conscious interference and allows the motor system to move more naturally. This can then lead to enhanced learning and performance. (Coker, 2016)
These cues are in fact the absence of instruction and can be referred to the athlete’s normal focus when given no cue at all. What has been noted here is that the athlete will tend to come up with their own cue or instruction, based on whatever cues they have received previously from their coach.
You would use this type of cueing/coaching when the athlete has practiced a movement or skill and are quite efficient at performing it, this will help them process it and engrave the movement. (Porter, Wu and Partridge, 2010) (Winkelman, 2018)
What type of cues are best?
It is thought that coaching is more of an art than a science and most coaches tend to base their coaching styles on either the way they were coached or by coaches they look up to or like rather than from scientific sources. (Winkelman, 2018)
Really all science is, is an effort to understand or better understand how things work using measurable evidence.
Looking at the evidence, of which there is a lot, it has shown that external cueing appears to be more effective for improving performance outcomes than internal or normal cues. (Winkelman, 2018)
External cues appear more effective in improving the following:
- Neuromuscular expression of force and velocity. (Greig and Marchant, 2014) (Vance et al., 2004)
- Change of direction speed. (Tsetseli, Zetou, Vernadakis and Mountaki, 2018)
- Sport skills without an implement (vertical and horizontal jumping)
- Sports skills with an implement (darts, golf, tennis, football)
- Continuous sports skills (swimming, running, cycling, sprinting)
- Balance and postural tasks.
In addition to displaying the superiority of external cues, it also suggests that the art of coaching can be better understood when they are put under the scientific lens.
So next time you are coaching, think of how you could use more external cueing than internal cueing to get better results.
Benz, A., Winkelman, N., Porter, J. and Nimphius, S., 2016. Coaching Instructions and Cues for Enhancing Sprint Performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 38(1), pp.1-11.
Coker, C., 2016. Optimizing External Focus of Attention Instructions: The Role of Attainability. Journal of Motor Learning and Development, 4(1), pp.116-125.
Greig, M. and Marchant, D., 2014. Speed dependant influence of attentional focusing instructions on force production and muscular activity during isokinetic elbow flexions. Human Movement Science, 33, pp.135-148.
McKay, B. and Wulf, G., 2012. A distal external focus enhances novice dart throwing performance. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 10(2), pp.149-156.
Porter, J., Nolan, R., Ostrowski, E. and Wulf, G., 2010. Directing Attention Externally Enhances Agility Performance: A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of the Efficacy of Using Verbal Instructions to Focus Attention. Frontiers in Psychology, 1.
Porter, J., Wu, W. and Partridge, J., 2010. Focus of Attention and Verbal Instructions: Strategies of Elite Track and Field Coaches and Athletes. Sport Science Review, 19(3-4).
Stoate, I. and Wulf, G., 2011. Does the Attentional Focus Adopted by Swimmers Affect Their Performance?. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 6(1), pp.99-108.
Tsetseli, M., Zetou, E., Vernadakis, N. and Mountaki, F., 2018. The attentional focus impact on tennis skills’ technique in 10 and under years old players: Implications for real game situations. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise, 13(2).
Vance, J., Wulf, G., Töllner, T., McNevin, N. and Mercer, J., 2004. EMG Activity as a Function of the Performer’s Focus of Attention. Journal of Motor Behavior, 36(4), pp.450-459.
Winkelman, N., 2018. Attentional Focus and Cueing for Speed Development. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 40(1), pp.13-25.
Wu, W., Porter, J. and Brown, L., 2012. Effect of Attentional Focus Strategies on Peak Force and Performance in the Standing Long Jump. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(5), pp.1226-1231.
Wulf, G., McNevin, N. and Shea, C., 2001. The automaticity of complex motor skill learning as a function of attentional focus. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A, 54(4), pp.1143-1154.
Wulf, G., Wächter, S. and Wortmann, S., 2003. Attentional Focus in Motor Skill Learning: Do Females Benefit from an External Focus?. Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, 12(1), pp.37-52.
Wulf, G., Zachry, T., Granados, C. and Dufek, J., 2007. Increases in Jump-and-Reach Height through an External Focus of Attention. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 2(3), pp.275-284.