Athlete's Learning Style - A Must Have For A Coach's Tool Box

There are few professions in this world that give you the power to shape a young individual's life; coaching is one of them. Coaching is like baking a cake: it’s one part teacher, one part mentor, one part motivator, and one part role model. A coach has the ability to leave an indelible mark in both the mind and the memory of his/her athletes. As I mentioned in my first blog, my life’s purpose is to enable any athlete, regardless of ability or background, to have an enriching, active experience.

What do you think all of the best coaches in the world all have in common? What do you think makes them successful? It’s their ability to adapt to their athletes' learning styles. All individuals are unique and cannot be coached in the exact same way. Each person has their own way of learning.

In other words, when coaches adapt their teaching style, it means they adapt to the different learning styles of each of their athletes. You may be asking yourself what is a “learning style”? Simply put, it is a preferred way of taking in and processing information in order to develop knowledge and skills. The most common modalities of processing information are visual, kinesthetic, and auditory. Knowing how your athlete works best can help him/her maximize their learning opportunities. By tuning in to their learning process you can help an athlete take an active part in creating more opportunities for themselves.

There are many methods of teaching athletes and connecting with their learning style, but my preference is a basic three-step process. The first step is to demonstrate: I perform the movement, exercise, or game in its entirety for the athlete. And, as I demonstrate, I make sure to explain what I’m doing. With this combination I can tap into an athlete’s visual and auditory processing. What happens if an athlete has a difficult time processing the movement in its entirety? I break down the movement into different parts. One such example is the Part-Whole Method (a technique I learned from the IYCA - International Youth Coaching Association). This method begins by teaching parts of a skill before integrating additional parts into the entire skill. A slight modification to this method is the Progressive-Part Method, which teaches skills part-by-part, but in sequential order. As each step is mastered, the next step is introduced until the entire skill is mastered.

The second step is to explain: The key to explaining movement is to simplify. What I like to do is think of words that go along with the movement. For example, when I teach my athletes how to perform a jumping jack, I stay away from words like feet apart, hands apart, etc. Instead, I use words that are directly associated with the movement, such as “open” and “close” or “little i” and “BIG X.” When you spread your hands and feet apart in a jumping jack, you open up the body and when your hands and feet come back together you close the body. When you’re in the open position it looks like the letter "X" and when you’re in the closed position it looks like the letter "i."

The third step is to discuss: During this step, I give my athletes the opportunity to ask questions and reflect on what was accomplished. Allowing an athlete to talk about themselves helps them to create confidence and generally grow more comfortable with his/her understanding of how they learn and move best.

Overall, knowing that my athletes have their own unique learning styles means that I have to make adjustments to reach each individual at their specific level of learning. Additionally, there has to be a holistic approach to enable the athlete to journey beyond their preferences and potentially discover other learning styles. With this in mind, I do my best to make sure my athletes have a well-rounded experience. Each new lesson helps to develop new skills and create more efficient and effective learning and movement patterns.

Posted on May 16, 2016 .