Improving our Coaching Language

Gates Lloyd -RM Alpine Chair

Improving our Coaching Language

The early summer rains brought on an amazing wildflower surge in Summit County this year. The ground’s now dry and the flowers have ceded the stage to the aspen’s blaze colors. My mind turns to skiing and teaching. Won’t be long before we’re back on snow!

Last fall I learned about the role of internal and external cues in creating long lasting changes in motor skill development. I started reading, The Language of Coaching* by Nick Winkelman. In it he pulls together hundreds of sources and tells his own coaching story to provide a gateway for those interested in learning how to coach and a textbook for experienced, successful coaches…who want to improve.

Looking to refresh your verbiage this season? Add some “punch” to your on-snow tips?  Deepen your understanding of how we learn motor skills and make permanent changes? This is the book for you (1).

After my first reading of the book, my journey started last winter. I skimmed the book again (there’s a lot in it) this summer. My intentions this season: upgrade my verbal feedback to create memorable images in the mind of my clients. Add to, subtract from or change (2) my coaching to capture, keep and direct (3) their attention. My desired outcome:  accurate descriptions of changes that evolve to focused cues to create long lasting movement pattern changes that speak to motivations.

One example from last winter: I have a client who came to skiing as an adult and wants to “ski fearlessly” in off-piste conditions with her family. A Division 1 track and field athlete, she ran the 200 and 400 in college. The issue? She keeps her back upright – nearly vertical – while skiing on groomed blue terrain. As she flexes her knees at the finish of the turn she moves to the back of her skis. Her ski performance suffers, and she loses the confidence she desires. We agree that staying over the center of the skis from fall line through finish will improve their performance and boost her confidence.

The cue? A patch of tape on each of her shoulders and one on the top of each knee. I asked that she shorten the distance between the shoulder patches and knee patches as she moved from fall line through finish.

The result? A change in her movement pattern through shaping and finish. A fore/aft body position that allowed the skis to perform better through the finish phase, a turn shape that allowed speed control, and more confidence.

This was just a start, but what a start! There is much more skiing ahead of us – more descriptions, more cues…and confidence. We’re both confident that the sensations she felt skiing last spring are the foundation for confidence in the terrain she dreams of skiing with her family.

It’s early Fall. There is plenty of time to decide upon your coaching upgrade for this winter. You’ve done the outdoor work: riding, running, paddling, hiking. Consider something that will reframe the way you connect with your guest, create powerful images in their mind and permanent changes in their skiing.

*The Language of Coaching: The Art and Science of Teaching Movement. Human Kinetics, 2021

(1) This is an unsolicited endorsement. I bought the book at full price. An excellent video option is Coaching Language – From Knowledge to Know-How by scholar/coach Nadine Dubina, Manager, Coaching Development at US Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Available at: https://lms.thesnowpros.org/product/coaching-language webinar/

(2) The Language of Coaching, Pg. 112-113

(3) Ibid, Pg. 73

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