Tag Archives: goals

On Teaching, Part 1: Chunking

I often refer to myself as a “coach”, but in reality I probably self identify as a “teacher” as much as a coach. The difference, for purposes of this article, is the objective or goal of the person you are working with. A teacher aligns their teachings with a student’s “learning objective.” Thus successful teaching is measured by whether the student learned that which you set out to teach them. A coach often aligns themselves with a goal. If their athlete achieves their goal, then the coach was successful. The difference is that I can have a client lose weight (goal) but still not have learned how to balance their macronutrients (learning objective), thus I was a successful coach but an unsuccessful teacher. It is probably splitting hairs to some degree but it provides some useful context in which to talk about chunking.

Chunking is not a novel idea, but I think this exercise is something different that most of the coaches I know can use to improve their delivery of cues and feedback to their athletes in real time.

The Set Up
Gather a group of 3 or more coaches and have one person coach while the others do the exercise. Only have one person show a fault and make it obvious and make it the same every time.

The Drill
Identify the fault – “Joe, you are rounding your back.”
Short actionable cue – “Chest up!”
Acknowledge the change – “That’s better.”
Of course, it might not have improved so you might say, “More!” or “Try harder.” Initially just practice having the person fix the fault.

The drill is extremely simple in this form. You just keep practicing it over and over with a friend or two taking turns. Once you have the basic dialogue, you cue your athlete through repetitions of the movement, “Set up. Joe, you’re rounding your back. Lift your chest. That’s better. Stand.”

The goal is to be fast and effective. Can you keep your athlete or group moving but still give individual attention and teaching? Repeat the same words over and over until they become fast and natural or you realize that you are saying it wrong and find a better more efficient way to say it. You can do this drill with any movement or progression. You can do this with various fixes (verbal, tactile or visual). You can do this with multiple people doing multiple faults. Use this to learn how to conduct fast effective fixes in a group setting. Be conscious of details like where you are standing and whether the athletes can see and hear you and you can see them. Can you stand in a better place to be more effective? Can you then fix multiple people with a slight change in your words, or where you are standing or how the group is organized?

Get good at the technique, so you can let your personality come through and you can actually be present to your athletes. Thus you will be effective as a coach and a teacher.

Are You Buying a Drill or a Hole?

As a person in the fitness industry, I am often asked “what do you think of this exercise?” While my thoughts on various exercises run the gamut, I am more concerned with people’s mindset. A good friend of mine said, “A person doesn’t buy a drill because they want a drill. They buy the drill because they want a hole.” Most likely, you don’t give a shit about a certain exercise, and neither do I, what you are really asking me is, “Will this exercise help me reach my goal?” And your goal may be to lose weight, get stronger, look better or whatever. Chances are one exercise is not going to magically get you to your goal.

So instead of talking about what exercise will get you to your goal, let’s talk about your goal and really look at it. Do you think this new sit up variation is really going to help you look great for swimsuit season? Chances are no. You probably have to look at your nutrition as well as your entire fitness regimen and come up with a plan beyond ‘do more crunches.’

It’s like asking your financial planner ‘what do you think of this stock?’ Chances are your financial planner is shaking their head because you think buying 100 shares of some stock is going to make you rich while at the same time you constantly max out your credit cards and outspend your income and exceed your budget.

You have to look at the goal and the whole system. Life is not linear. There is no single variable that we can change to suddenly become awesome. It’s a lot of little things all added together that makes improvements and gets us to our goals. Sure, one good thing can lead to another but don’t fall into the trap of discarding one thing after another endlessly looking for that magic bullet that will fix it all. Success is an additive process: do one positive thing, then another and another until you succeed. Don’t stop until that happens.