How long should you work with an athlete on a new skill? A few minutes? A couple of sessions? A month? What if they are really struggling to pick up the skill? Do some athletes just “never get it”?
While it does seem that some athletes seem to pick up a new skill faster than others, there are a few things to keep in mind during the learning process.
- Learning Styles – There are 3 different learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Make sure to utilize all three styles in teaching. This will give you a much better chance at getting through to the athlete.
- Repetition – The key to learning and perfecting a new skill is repetition. According to motor learning scientists, it takes 300-500 reps to learn a new skill. That will allow the body to form a “motor program” to help it complete the skill the same way almost every time. What about changing a bad habit? That can take 3000-5000 reps to change that faulty motor program. That explains why it is sometimes easier to teach an inexperienced athlete a skill.
- Coaching Is Teaching – Want to see a great teacher? Find a great coach. They are able to find ways to get through to their students so that they learn. They break things down into parts, use cue words to guide, give correction when needed, and give praise when needed. They are determined to find a way for the athlete to learn the skill.
- All Athletes Are Different – Sometimes one athlete picks up a skill very quickly yet may it take another athlete a lot longer. The question is, how long do you keep trying? Do you ever just give up? Former NFL coach Chuck Knox used to believe that all athletes could learn if their coach was a good enough teacher. Great coaches get creative and try to find a way that will work to teach the athlete.
We all spend time trying to find the next “super exercise” or to create the perfect program. While it is important to constantly evaluate these things, if you want to be a great coach, work on your teaching. They best way to get better is to watch other coaches. See if you can pick up a few tips on how they teach a skill or drill. It will make you better.