What and How You Say It Matters

I remember growing up and my parents would spell things out to each other when they didn’t want my siblings and I to understand what they were talking about. And now I find Alexandra and I doing the same thing.

For example, on the weekend we were planning out our day and I asked Alexandra if I should take Olivia and go for a s-k-i? And if we don’t go to the hill I might suggest that we all go for a s-w-i-m.

Because the thing is as soon as you mention anything along the lines of going skiing or to the pool you’ve basically promised them to go and do that activity. And if you don’t deliver tears ensue. Usually on my part first and the kids follow suit shortly after.

But the whole point of this is that what and how you say something matters. The same applies to coaching as well.

Let’s take a moment to look at what you say and how to say it when coaching.

What You Say

Have you ever travelled to a foreign country and there is a North American tourist trying to communicate to someone in English? The North American is typically looking for directions and the local person doesn’t speak English. Instead of looking for someone to translate, or using hand gestures or a different approach, the tourist simply speaks louder and slower.

Tourists sometimes think speaking louder and more slowly leads to comprehension.

Tourists sometimes think speaking louder and more slowly leads to comprehension.

It’s as though the breakdown in communication is a result of a hearing difficulty or auditory processing.

We’ve all seen and been embarrassed by one of our own countrymen, or relatives, acting in this way.

Coaching is similar.

When we are looking to convey feedback to a client it makes no sense to speak Greek to an English speaker. Or in the case of anatomy, it makes no sense to speak Latin.

engage the latissimus dorsi

relax your adductor brevis


Worse, we should stay away from speaking the jargon we were taught in school.

more in the transverse plane

watch out for the valgus stress

less anterior pelvic tilt

The feedback we provide a client should be external or outside the body, rather than internal and referring to a body part. As well, the cue should involve an analogy.

Consider the two examples to see how this aplies.

Internal cue without an analogy – Engage the gluteus maximus to facilitate a posterior pelvic tilt

External cue with an analogy – If the belt line was a bowl of water, spill some water out of the back of the bowl.

Do you see the difference?

So that deals with how we say things and in terms of what we say the following study looked at cueing for some jumps.

A recent study had 13 subjects perform a number of jumps. The jumps were a squat jump, a counter-movement jump and two depth jumps off a 35 cm box. For the depth jumps off the box the subjects received a cue to jump as high as possible or fast as possible.

The researchers measured peak force, ground contact time and power output using a force platform.

Here’s what they found.

Depth jumps resulted in higher peak force, less ground contact time and higher power output compared to the squat jump and counter-movement jump.

What was interesting was that the cue to jump as quickly as possible resulted in higher power and peak force and less ground contact time compared to the cue to jump as high as possible.

How much better did the ‘as fast as possible’ group do? Well about 25% more in terms of peak force and 40% faster in terms of ground reaction time.

When you consider medals are won-lost over the smallest of margins these are huge differences.

If you are coach working with athletes make sure you using external cues with analogies. And when performing plyometrics remember this study when you progress to depth jumps.


It is important to be aware that depth jumps are a high level plyometric activity. Athletes need to have an advanced level of yielding strength to safely reduce the forces from a depth jump.


Louder T, Bressel M, Bressel M. 2015. The Kinematic Specificity of Plyometric Training: Verbal Cues Revisited. J Hum Kinet. 20;49:201-8.





Related Posts:



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *