What are Coaching Cues?
Coaching cues are snippets of information, or task-orientated information, used to teach the athlete how to perform the task/skill . Successful coaching largely depends on the coach’s ability to communicate with the athlete using simple and effective coaching cues . Cues which are too long, too complex, and are quite simply just too complicated, are unlikely to teach the athlete the desired skill. As a result, a great deal of research has emerged in the past two decades which has attempted to identify the most effective coaching cues to use; with the first study being published in 1998 .
Coaching cues are perhaps most often used to focus an athlete’s attention on the key feature of the task/skill which is being taught (e.g., getting up-tall whilst sprinting) . Technically speaking, this is referred to as the athlete’s focus of attention, or what is otherwise known as ‘attentional focus’ [1, 3].
Attentional focus is the feature of the task the athlete is focussing on (e.g., getting up-tall whilst sprinting, or striking the ball with their laces).
When refining or learning a new skill, the athlete’s focus of attention (attentional focus) plays an important role in the acquisition of that skill; therefore, emphasising the importance of an appropriate cue.
From a motor skill acquisition standpoint (i.e., learning/developing skills), there are three main types of coaching cues. These are:
- Internal cue
- External cue
- Normal cue
Internal coaching cues direct the athlete to focus their attention on the body movements associated with the skill . Internal cue examples include:
- Bend from your hips
- Rapidly extend through your hips, knees, and ankles.
- Bend your hips and knees at the same time.
- Kick by forcefully by extending your knee
With these types of cues, the commonality is that the coach is always referring to a body part(s), whether that is the hip, knee or ankle; although it is not isolated to just these and applies to any body part. It is believed that these type of cues can disrupt the athlete’s automatic control/movement processes as they direct the athlete to consciously organise their body’s movement [4, 5].
Internal cues are thought to disrupt movement and control because the athlete has to ‘consciously’ organise their body.
With that said, it is important to acknowledge that this is not to suggest that internal cues are not effective, it is simply to draw your attention to what this type of cue is believed to do.
External coaching cues direct the athlete to focus their attention on the movement effect or the outcome associated with the skill . External cue examples include:
- Stay long and low during the acceleration phase
- Push the ground away
- Absorb the floor
- Explode upwards towards the ceiling
These cues, therefore, encourage the athlete to think more about the outcome (e.g., absorb the floor), than the internal actions needed to perform it (e.g., bend your hips and knees at the same time). Given this, it is believed that external cues reduce the conscious interference and “allows the motor system to more naturally self-organise” , leading to enhanced learning and performance .
External cues are believed to allow the athlete to subconsciously ‘self-organise’ their body during movement.
This form of coaching cue is, in fact, an absence of instruction, and can instead be referred to as the athlete’s normal focus when they are given no cue whatsoever [3, 8]. Having said that, the athlete is arguably likely to think of their own cue/instruction based on what they have previously been instructed to do by their coach – potentially resulting in the athlete thinking of either an internal or external cue.