Do Coaching Cues Influence Performance and Learning?
The Art of Coaching: External Cues vs. Internal and Normal
There is a long-standing belief that the act of coaching is more of an ‘art’ than a ‘science’, and this is clear given the fact coaches often prefer to get new information from other practitioners rather than from scientific sources . In one context, science is simply a concerted effort to understand, or better understand, how things work using measurable evidence . With this in mind, scientific research has attempted to better understand the so-called ‘art of coaching’, and has so far been successful within the context of coaching cues.
To elaborate, an abundance of research, thus far, has shown that external coaching cues appear to be more effective for improving the performance outcome than internal or normal cues. External cues appear to be more effective for improving the following :
- Balance and suprapostural tasks [10, 6, 11, 2, 12]
- Neuromuscular expression of force and velocity [13-16]
- Change of direction speed 
- Sport skills with an implement (e.g., darts, golf, tennis, and soccer) [18-21]
- Sport skills without an implement (e.g., vertical and horizontal jumping) [22-25]
- Continuous sports skills (e.g., swimming, running, sprinting, and agility) [26-29]
In addition to displaying the potential superiority of external coaching cues, it also suggests that the art of coaching can be better understood when put under the lens of the scientific rigor.
Acute vs. Chronic Learning
As the great quote goes, “you haven’t taught until they have learned” . This quote implies that just because the educator (e.g., coach) has instructed something, does not mean the learner has learned it. And whilst learners (e.g., athletes) may show a temporary improvement in a skill following instruction from the coach, it does not mean the athlete will retain this skill at a later date.
A temporary, or short-term, improvement in a skill is known as acute learning, whilst permanent, or long-term, retention of the skill is known as chronic learning. To support this, research has shown that acute learning of a skill during practice/training is not necessarily indicative of skill retention and chronic learning [31, 32]. For example, although the athlete may have learned, for the first time, how to volley a football on a Tuesday night at training, it does not mean they will retain this skill at the following session, or even in a game.
As skill acquisition (i.e., learning skills) is the so-called ‘name of the game’, research has attempted to identify which coaching cues (external, internal, or normal) are most effective for skill retention/chronic learning. To do this, studies use “retention tests” which are typically performed several days after the “practice” and cueing has taken place [Figure 1; 2, 33, 34].