Tag Archives: teaching

OMG Literally Dead

I have seen a lot of social media posts from movement educators (yoga teachers, physical therapists, and others) about various cues being inaccurate. Taking issues with cues is a distraction. The cue isn’t the problem. The cue is a description or a direction but it is not a literal/factual/actual definition. If I cue you not to judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes some uppity movement teacher would chastise me for telling people to steal shoes and blame me for the shin splints and plantar fasciitis resulting from excessive walking in ill-fitting footwear. It’s a power move where the internet coach tries to position themself as an expert by criticizing the way others are doing something and presumably set them straight. Classic. Perhaps that’s what I’m doing to some degree. Regardless, it’s a waste of time and energy and ultimately not advancing the cause of movement education. For example, the one that comes up a lot lately is the “breathe into your belly” cue that is popular with yoga teachers. It’s only been the last decade that movement educators outside of the yoga space have taken any interest in breathing and suddenly they come rushing onto the scene to tell yoga teachers how they are doing it wrong. These newly minted anatomists are quick to point out that we do not have lungs in our bellies and that the cue is woefully inaccurate and misleading. Please!

A “Cue” is a directive from coach or teacher to athlete or student to get them to move or position themselves better. A cue is often a shorthand for a much bigger concept or set of instructions. Some cues are “terms of art” which are words or phrases that have a precise, specialized meaning within a particular field. If I shout “hooks!” at my jiu-jitsu athlete during a training session, he should understand, that I want him to position his feet on the inside of his opponent’s thighs. It is important to understand that the cue is only as good as the result that it gets. The best cue is the one that works. While an anatomically more accurate cue might be less subject to criticism it is useless if it does not get your student into a better position.

If you have been teaching movement for any length of time you will start to realize that talking more does not lead to better movement from your students. Your students move better by moving more. Nobody needs to hear everything, nor can they assimilate everything, on the first pass. In order to free the angels in the marble you need to chisel away over and over. Better movement is more refined movement. More refinement comes from repetition and a gradual improvement on the previous iteration. The job of refining movement is that of a sculptor gradually chipping away the imperfections in the marble until the hidden beauty is revealed. A sculptor takes many passes over the marble with finer and finer tools to eventually get to the finished product. A sculptor that only has a large chisel will never be able to create the fine details in the piece and a sculptor that only has a very tiny chisel will never be able to create the rough shape of the form. Your cues should have many levels of detail depending on where you and your athlete are relative to where you are going.

The job of a teacher is not merely to educate with factual knowledge, The job of a teacher is also to inspire, to entertain, and to challenge their students. The mere recitation of anatomical facts does little to ignite a student’s curiosity or get them over their fear of getting upside-down. The teacher must wear the hat of cheerleader, poet, task master, sage, story teller, and wikipedia author. The job is to curate an experience for the student from beginning to end that will ultimately be the best part of the student’s day. Using flowery language, poetry, telling stories, and cheering for students in subtle and not-so-subtle ways is part of the teacher’s job. A balance must be struck between how much you speak in literal prose and how much you speak in metaphor but both are necessary. Taking any cue out of context will often reveal many deficiencies, but the point is you can never separate the cue from the context. Do not let the literal-minded extinguish your poetry!

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.