coaching effectiveness

Situational Coaching

As a young coach I struggled to find my coaching style. I was naturally reserved, bordering on shy, and yet I wanted to be an Athletic Development coach. After following the examples of a few great coaches around me along with a little trial and error, I eventually settled into a style that I was comfortable with. And as a result I was able to effectively reach most of my athletes. Mission accomplished right? Well, not quite. Not too long after I was feeling good about my coaching, I started coaching with Rett Larson. Rett is one of the most charismatic and engaging coaches out there. Ideally, I would have welcomed the opportunity to learn from another coach that was so different than me.  Unfortunately, my competitive nature and ego took over. I couldn’t stand NOT being the favorite coach of EVERY athlete we were both coaching. Being an athlete’s “favorite” coach has a lot to do with individual personalities and shared interests, but an athlete’s favorite coach is also the coach that seems to explain things and motivate them in a way that just makes sense. So, while I was going to be hard pressed to win over the U-12 girls soccer team that had crushes on Rett, I still had to find a way to make meaningful connections with athletes that I had been missing the mark with. You see, even though I finally found my own coaching groove, I had yet to accommodate my style to those I was working with. I was a hammer and every athlete looked like a nail.

If the end goal is to effectively coach ALL athletes you work with, then the first step is to identify what coaching style you are most comfortable with. Coaching athletes that have different preferences and characteristics doesn’t mean you have to change your style, only ADJUST. So recognizing your natural style is important. In the book Successful Coaching, Martens describes three distinct coaching styles; Command, Submissive, and Cooperative.

Command: authoritative, coach makes decisions while athletes listen and respond to commands.

Submissive: passive, minimal decision-making and instruction, only steps in when absolutely necessary.

Cooperative: coach shares decision-making with athletes, establishes structure then guides the process.

Martens also provides overviews for 8 other coaching styles with a self-reflection tool that can help you to recognize specific characteristics that make up your coaching style. Download it here.

So, what is your natural coaching style? If you are anything like me, then it is probably a mixture of the styles that Martens describes.


The more critical part of this equation is being able to identify what type of athlete you are working with, so that you can adjust your coaching style accordingly. One way to deliver optimal coaching is by making adjustments that span and overlap individual sensory learning preferences. For the most part, athletes are predominately Visual, Kinesthetic, or Auditory learners.

Visual – learn by watching: Most people are visual learners. These athletes ask, “Can you show me again”. Take advantage of demos, diagrams, and video playback with visual learners. Keep in mind that your demos better be on point for these athletes; they will do EXACTLY what they see regardless of the verbal description that accompanies the demo.

Kinesthetic – learn by doing: Athletes are typically more kinesthetically inclined than the general population. These athletes will start practicing the movement while you are still describing or demonstrating it. Minimize verbal instruction and utilize more actual movement practice along with manual/tactile/rhythmic cues and positioning. You can also guide their intrinsic feedback mechanisms by asking questions like, “How did that feel?”

Auditory – learn by listening: These athletes repeat what you say and/or ask, “Can you say that again”. Auditory learners can be catered to by using speech patterns, musical elements, rhymes, and voice tones to emphasize important teaching points. Similar to the importance of demos for visual learners, auditory learners demand clear, concise, consistent, and specific descriptions and instruction. Also encourage dialog with these athletes. Allowing them to “talk through” the learning process will help.


We can also learn a lot from the Situational Leadership Model created by Blanchard & Hersey in the 1960’s. Developed as a way of helping business leaders get the most out of those they managed, its premise is to utilize specific leadership strategies based on situational variables. Basically, Blanchard & Hersey looked at corresponding the way one manages with an interaction of the employee’s Commitment and Competence. For example, a person with low Commitment and low Competence needs a different management style than someone that exhibits high Commitment and high Competence. I really like this model because it also integrates a developmental scheme to progress poor performers towards high levels of both variables. Brian Grasso, founder of the International Youth Conditioning Association, has tailored this model specific to sports performance coaching. Grasso looks at it like this:

Low Motivation Low Skill: Use a Direct coaching style; avoid singling this athlete out by “directing” coaching points to them in a subtle and personal manner.

Low Motivation High Skill: Use an Inspire coaching style; spend most of your energy motivating and challenging this athlete. They have natural ability already, but need someone to captivate their interest and inspire effort.

High Motivation Low Skill: Use a Guide coaching style; this athlete has the inherent desire to improve, match their eagerness with coaching that is focused on teaching them the technical aspects of athletic movement.

High Motivation High Skill: Use a Delegate coaching style; make sure these athletes understand the goals and structure of training then include them in the training process, gather their feedback on programming, put them in situations where they can teach other athletes. As a coach, your goal should be to develop all athletes to this category.

Here is short video of John Spence, a leadership consultant, explaining the dynamics behind the situational leadership model. He is presenting from a business management perspective, but there are strong parallels with sports performance coaching.

I truly believe that a great coach is one that can effortlessly adapt their coaching style to best match the athlete they are working with, even in team settings. In case you are wondering, the coaching battle between Rett and I was cut short before I could completely dominate the training floor we shared (I transferred to another facility). But if you ask me, I was well on my way to stealing his “favorite coach” status by some of his most devoted minion.

– Coach Hall

Do as I Say, AND as I Do

Growing up, a common phrase from my parents was “Do as I say, not as I do” (second only to “Because I said so”). This beauty normally got dropped when they weren’t practicing what they preached, and got called on it. The equivalent in the athletic development coaching world is related to coaches’ demos. Too often do we rely on our verbal descriptions of exercises and drills, while letting the actual physical demos get a little sloppy. Especially if we are reviewing an exercise that has been introduced already but the athletes don’t necessarily know it by name. Admittedly, I have been guilty of this. After ten years of coaching the Acceleration A-Skip, my verbal description is quite rehearsed, specific, and concise but I don’t always have a high attention to detail when demonstrating it.

Laziness isn’t always the culprit for poor demos; sometimes coaches have legitimate difficulty with physically performing certain exercises or drills. In which case, an athlete might hear “Don’t do it like me, but…” Sound familiar? Worse yet, you probably know coaches that avoid using some exercises or drills when training athletes, solely because they aren’t good at them themselves. The coach that’s still nursing 19 welts from the last time they tried 20 reps on the jump rope probably isn’t likely to use a jump rope warm up very often. It goes without saying that our athletes are the ones that are shortchanged most by poor coaching demos and exercise exclusions.

So there it is. Coaches need to demonstrate exercises and movements correctly. Nothing groundbreaking or new about this topic. However, next time you catch yourself just going through the motions when demonstrating or reviewing an exercise, consider these points:

  • Most people are visual learners and learn by modeling what they see. Regardless of your verbal description, many athletes will do as you do. This can be a good thing or a bad thing; use it to your advantage.
  • Position yourself and your athletes to best view the demo. Demonstrating from multiple angles will help athletes see and conceptualize critical aspects of the activity. Facing athletes is best for them to hear you, but not great for them to see some movement patterns. Athletes to your side and back are best for them to view most movements, but not great for them to hear you.
  • If using a Part to Whole teaching approach for complex movements, showing the Whole first can help to provide a conceptual model for the parts to relate back to. Athletes that know how a Buttkicker drill fits into a top speed stride cycle will have a higher level of drill transfer to the real deal.
  • Use slow motion along with full speed demonstrations.
  • Limit the amount of demonstrations that show what not to do. “What I don’t want to see is…” Read more about why in my Don’t Throw Your Juice post.
  • Video support is a great alternative for coaches that have difficulty with performing a particular exercise or drill. It isn’t cheap but a laptop with Dartfish software is perfect for this.
  • Utilize your studly and veteran athletes for demos you aren’t comfortable with. It will totally make their day too.

– Coach Hall

GUEST BLOG: Name That Tune

This post comes courtesy of Rett Larson – The original Super Coach.  Check out his website for great coaching and training tips, www.performancecorps.com.  Here are some insights to training young athletes…


When my mom was a little kid she had a vinyl record titled “Name That Tune,” and whereas we now have millions of video games, this was an audio game. Basically, the record had around 30 snippets of popular 1950’s songs. Each snippet was only ten seconds long, and at the end of each was a little chime that let you know it was over and that it was now time to actually name that tune. Well, nowadays whenever one of those 30 songs comes on the radio my mom will intone the chime at exactly the moment that it occurred on her old vinyl record.


In thinking about that this weekend two things occurred to me. First of all, how starved for entertainment do you have to be to play that record so many times that you’ve not only memorized all the songs, but also the end-points of all the snippets therein? Clearly her cup and ball game was broken at the time. The second thing was that her dedication to that record really highlights a coaching principle that we sometimes forget about, which is that athletes crave achievement.

Sure, of course they do – they’re athletes who obviously love sports, which are little vehicles of achievement. No big surprise there. Well, I think that we sometimes forget this obvious point when we’re training athletes, especially young ones. When faced with a team of 9 year olds, the temptation is to pander to their low attention span and give them lots and lots of activities to keep them occupied. Many young coaches will expend lots of energy throwing the kitchen sink at their athletes because they’ve forgotten that athlete love to see themselves getting better. Why do you think they’ll watch the same 5 Disney videos 300 times? A) Because Ratatouille is the most adorable rat to ever pick up a whisk and B) because they love knowing every line.

So, let them achieve during your coaching sessions. Pick one or two things each day and make it your goal to be knocking them out of the park by the end of the coaching session. Maybe it’s the perfect lunge, or a pro-style 2 point starting position. Maybe you just want them to memorize the muscles of the leg, or the conversion of pounds to kilos. The point is, keep it simple and repeat until they’re quoting you like a celluloid rat-chef.



What Does a Coach Make?

Occasionally, someone will ask me if I make a good living as a coach. It’s usually pretty clear that they’re talking about money, so I catch them a little off guard with my answer. First off, I believe that money is only one form of currency that we receive from our chosen career. In his book, “The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness”, Vance Caesar provides a list of career currencies that won’t show up on a W-2 or 1099 Form, but are arguably more valuable and deserve ample attention;

  • Knowledge and Growth – This one is critical for me. A systematic personal and/or professional development plan will pay dividends long after you retire.
  • Relationships – Leadership and influence are contingent on strong relationships. As a coach, I thrive on them, particularly the ones that give me positive energy. You know that feeling of being more alive after working with a group of exceptional athletes?, that’s the value of relationships.
  • Fun – Don’t forget this one.  Do you have fun at work? If so, then you can hardly call it work.
  • Life Choices – When assessing a potential career opportunity, or even your current situation, how well does it fit into the type of life you want? Can you live close to family? Are your nights and weekends free to spend time with your kids? Are you able to travel the globe and experience other cultures?
  • Legacy – If you enjoy building something from the ground up, then legacy is important to you. Particularly if what you build outlasts your own career. Knowing that you’re contributing to a cause that will in turn benefit others for a long time can be way more rewarding than a paycheck.
  • Reputation and Brand – Most coaches would take a pay cut if it meant they were able to become part of an industry-leading organization that they respect.

Of all these currencies, the coaching profession is rich in Relationships, Fun, and Legacy. Certainly, there are opportunities to maximize Money, Knowledge and Growth, Life Choices, and Reputation and Brand, but most of us are in the game to connect with athletes, play every day, and make lasting impressions.

One of my favorite video clips looks at this concept from a teacher’s perspective, but the coaching applications are obvious.

So, what does a coach make?

  • A coach makes athletes work harder than they thought possible.
  • A coach makes athletes develop discipline, focus, and work ethic.
  • A coach makes athletes realize how special they are.
  • A coach makes athletes think critically.
  • A coach makes athletes more self-confident.
  • A coach makes athletes aware of the path where the heart leads.
  • A coach makes it possible to fail without fear.
  • A coach makes personal connections that last a lifetime.
  • A coach makes a difference.

– Coach Hall

Too Much of a Good Thing

I’m a big believer in augmented feedback, as evident in my previous posts on Specific, Individual, and Prioritized feedback. If a coach isn’t communicating information to instruct, educate, correct, and praise the actions of their athletes, then they aren’t really coaching. However, just like Kobe and his Jordanesque jump shot, we as coaches need to learn when to hold back and let those around us (our athletes) learn to help themselves. Kobe has the talent to pour in 81 points in a single game, and is probably tempted to take the game into his own hands more often than he actually does. After 10+ years in the NBA though, he has learned that although his individual offense is critical to the Laker’s win column, overemphasizing his own scoring is ultimately a detriment to the team’s long term success. Likewise, in an effort to affect positive change, we are always eager to impart our observations, knowledge, and experience onto our athletes. I think we can agree that our feedback and instruction is crucial to the improvement of their athletic performance, but is there such a thing as too much?

The simple answer is yes. Excessive feedback and “front-loaded” instruction are large parts of over-coaching. Front-loaded instruction is when a coach takes 3 minutes to explain a 15 second drill. Coaches guilty of front-loading (I have been there before) are probably just trying to thoroughly describe the drill along with its rationale, possible faults and corrections, and sport application. All of which are great to educate athletes about, just not at all once. Not only are small chunks of information easier for athletes to digest, but when presented with continuous instruction, listeners are likely only remember the first and last things said anyway (Primacy and Recency Effect). So be concise, get them moving and coach on the fly.

When looking at excessive feedback, the biggest offender is typically related to the frequency at which a coach delivers feedback. In many cases, athletes would be better served if the coach said LESS. Additionally, what is excessive for one athlete might not be for another. Three main variables to consider when determining the appropriate frequency of feedback are;

  1. Complexity of the task – Generally, low complexity requires less frequent feedback and high complexity requires more frequent feedback.
  2. Age/Skill of the athlete – Generally, young/low skilled athletes require more frequent feedback and as athletes become older and/or more skilled, they require less frequent feedback.
  3. Content preference of the athlete – If an athlete doesn’t want a particular type of feedback and feels like it is detrimental to their performance, then avoid it or find another way to deliver the same information. For example, an athlete tells you that they don’t like it when you point out a technical error because they are unable to get the picture of the error out of their mind, even when you couple it with praise or something else they did well. In this case, continuing to give feedback on technical errors would be considered excessive for this particular type of content.

Regardless of the situation, excessive feedback has a few damaging consequences. The worst of which is when athletes develop strong dependencies on their coach in order to identify the actions of their own performance. In essence, the coach’s feedback (extrinsic feedback mechanism) becomes a crutch for the athlete and is relied on to provide nearly 100% of the information needed to facilitate improved performance. As a result, when the coach’s feedback is removed, performance suffers because the athlete has failed to develop mechanisms that utilize intrinsic information to detect and correct movement errors. In actuality, no learning or retention has occurred.

From a sport sociology perspective, consider that an athlete receiving high frequencies of correction AND encouragement often perceive themselves as having low competence. Additionally, athletes that receive more feedback than others in a group setting are perceived by those in the group as having lower competence than the rest of the athletes. These situations are damaging to athletic development, as well as the emotional well being of athletes.

So how do you know if you’re over-coaching? If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, then you are over-coaching:

  1. Do the majority of your athletes instantly look for your feedback after each rep of 5 rep set for Olympic lifts?
  2. Do you find that the athletes with the worst technique in a group try to avoid you watching them?

One really good way to avoid over-coaching is to adopt a Guided Discovery approach to coaching. Guided Discovery is characterized by allowing and encouraging athletes to explore movement in order to provide a permanent and independent environment for learning. This will develop athletes that are more in tune with their own bodies, able to use intrinsic information to produce movement solutions, and are less dependent on their coach’s feedback. As a coach, the “guided’ part means that we initially educate and establish a technical model that athletes can visualize and work towards. Then we gradually fade out the frequency of instruction and feedback while using questions more often. The simplest means of reducing feedback frequency is to provide summaries at the end of sets instead of each repetition. Also, try using “bandwidth” feedback, where you don’t provide any input unless the performance falls out of predetermined criteria. As you begin to use questions, focus them on areas that foster intrinsic feedback and reflection (What can you do to improve that?, How did that feel?, etc.).

Ultimately, athletes will learn more from their experiences than they will from their coach but we need to be there to make sure they have the right experiences.

– Coach Hall

Wise Words from Busta

There are a handful of factors I consider whenever approaching a professional opportunity. One of them is Professional Development. When an employer or manager doesn’t have an established system of development, there is a good chance I’m not going to be interested. At the very least, I am looking for regular evaluations so that I can make the appropriate steps to address my critical areas of improvement. However, in the athletic development coaching industry, these employee development programs are few and far between. Additionally, guided professional development becomes exceedingly difficult when you become a Head Performance Coach or Director and are now responsible for the development of others. Who is left to develop you? Or what if you’re an entrepreneur and run your own business?

Although development systems are great, especially when individualized, I might also look at the prospective coaching staff that I would be joining. Early on in my coaching career, I felt like I made the biggest strides in my professional development when I was working with coaches that were more experienced and simply just better coaches than I was. Having models of coaching excellence to learn from cannot be replaced by an employee development plan. However, there may come a time when you are the best coach on staff and you are the model of excellence that others are learning from. Again, what about you?

Well, I think Busta Rhymes said it best in his late 90’s chart topping hit Gimme Some More.



If I ain’t gonna be part of the greatest,
I gotta be the greatest myself.

When you work somewhere that doesn’t have a development system in place, where you are the best coach on staff, and you lack the opportunity to access a suitable mentor; it is time to take control of your own development. Listen to Busta. After all, he does own a green Lamborghini Murciélago nicknamed “Peppermint”.

Here are 10 ways to become master of your coaching destiny:

Self Reflection: Across the board, all great coaches are constantly evaluating themselves. Much of this happens internally, but you could also have someone take video of some of your training sessions so that you can assess yourself at a later time. The point is to be consciously aware of what is working and what isn’t working, then seek more optimal behaviors.

Circle of Peers: Establish a group of fellow sports performance coaches that you can bounce ideas off of. The key is to make sure each member of your group has their own strength and is willing to offer honest feedback and analysis. A group of coaches that are so like-minded that they agree on everything and are afraid to provide constructive criticism won’t do you much good. Before recently relocating, I was part of a small Mastermind group like this.  We met twice each month to talk shop, discuss training and leadership, review industry products, and troubleshoot dilemmas. It was invaluable.

Observation: Take time every few months to remove yourself from your own coaching environment so that you can visit and observe someone else in their facility or gym. Visiting local competitors can be a little tricky, but when handled professionally, most folks realize that sharing amongst coaches is a win-win. Additionally, observing sport coaches during their practices is great to find new ways of organizing and communicating with large groups of athletes.

Literature: Combine a library of classic training and coaching books with industry journals and/or online articles. Make it a priority to read every week. My book and article collection is a point that if I stopped adding to it today, I would still have material to read until I retire. I might not ever get to read all of it, but the process of searching and sifting through literature always leads me to interesting concepts that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

DVDs: For those that don’t enjoy reading, there is a plethora of DVD or video products on performance training. The growing trend is for industry experts to re-purpose live presentations, which typically have poor production value, but the information is readily available nonetheless.

Conferences and Clinics: Not only a chance to get with other coaches and “talk shop”, but the presentations at the NSCA and Perform Better conferences are also an excellent way to see what other people are doing and hear what concepts are being refined. Big events also draw the exhibitors anxious to show you new products. Hard sells are annoying but being aware of new technology and equipment is part of being a great coach.

Mentorships: These aren’t cheap, but being able to spend 5 days with Mike Boyle, Athletes’ Performance, or Vern Gambetta is probably well worth the cost if you can swing it. I haven’t attended any but the Boyle Mentorship is first on my list.

Discussion Forums: For the quick sharing of information, ideas, and opinions with tons of other coaches; you can’t beat online discussion forums. The ability to ask questions that are answered by some leading minds in the industry is completely unique to online forums. Even if you don’t post on the discussion threads, you can get great information from old threads. My favorite forums are on http://www.strengthcoach.com/ (paysite), Supertraining Yahoo Group, http://www.nsca.com/, and http://www.charliefrancis.com/.

Blogs: If you are reading this, then you have already figured this one out. Find a handful of good blogs that you can check throughout the week to stimulate thought or just remind you of stuff you already know. I’ve listed my favorite blogs by category on my Resources Tab.

Podcasts: These are great for commutes or if you want to torture your wife and kids on long road trips. Best of all, they are usually free. Some of my all-time favorite podcasts are interviews with Mark Verstegen, Al Vermeil, Brian Grasso, Loren Seagrave and the stuff Gray Cook does for the Strength Coach Podcast. I also like the Strength and Power Hour internet radio show.