This blog will talk about coaching and how verbal cues can help or hinder performance. It may be useful if you have friends or family, you coach, or just as a bit of information for you as an athlete.

INSTRUCTIONS – are typically given before or during practice and are regardless of performance. These are what to do and how to do it. They should be concise and clear. Cues should direct attention to what needs to be done. These cues can put constraints on an athlete, by making them focus on a certain aspect of their performance they will neglect others.

Typically, the best instructions facilitate self-organisation. Cues should allow some form of freedom from the athlete.


IMPLICIT – not told exactly how to perform a skill – athletes learn on an unconscious level. This has been shown to train the athlete to be more stable under pressure. The athlete is used to relying on himself to figure things out so to speak.

EXPLICIT – tell you exactly how to perform skill – this has been shown to make the athlete become too dependent on a coach. Increases the chance of cracking under pressure. The athlete needs the coach to be there to give him instructions.


ANALOGIES – reduces amount of time verbalising instructions, need to be creative. Can lead to better retention by the athlete.

ATTENTIONAL FOCUS - Internal or external focus.

INTERNAL – the focus is inwards on one’s own body. Sometimes this is necessary but can lead to feelings of increased effort.

EXTERNAL – the focus is shifted outwards on the goal or task. Has been shown to lead to better learning outcomes and self-regulation. Also, economy of effort is increased.

FEEDBACK – this is given during or after and is based on performance.

INTRINSIC FEEDBACK (sensory) - Visual, proprioception, auditory, cutaneous. What you feel during your movements, unbalanced, pain?

AUGMENTED FEEDBACK - Knowledge of performance, knowledge of results (KR). This would be external feedback, for instance if a coach tells you how well you have performed. Or if you have won a race, this would be a good piece of feedback on your performance.

Reliance on augmented feedback can lead to athletes too reliant on their coach. Research shows when you have a high percentage of knowledge of results you do not learn as well. Retention will drop. Again when this is taken away the athlete will have to be more self-reliant and work out how they are doing themselves.


KR frequency – how much knowledge of the results is given back? As we have mentioned already, some KR is good, too much is bad, and will lessen the power of knowledge when it is important.

Bandwidth KR – step in with KR when an athlete makes a certain number of mistakes. This has been shown to be better than constant KR. It tells an athlete he has made a few errors while not overloading him with too much info.

Summary or average KR – feedback is given after performance. This has good results for retention, it also lets the athlete get on with the job in hand while he is performing.

Delayed KR – wait for a period of time to give feedback, retention better, process internally. This could be after a time has passed since the event.

KR estimation – ask athlete how he did, allows athlete to internalise his performance. This has been shown to be one of the best approaches as it asks the athlete to question themselves. High levels of retention and understanding.

A lot of this will come down to coaches and athletes’ personalities. It is an often-overlooked fact that not all coaches will be able to work with all athletes and vice versa. Personalities and methods can clash. As coaches we have to take into account athletes personalities and preferences for taking feedback and instructions.

How do you like to receive instructions and feedback?

Ben Wood.

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