Are You Coaching, Cueing, Connecting…or Confusing?

Are You Coaching, Cueing, Connecting…or Confusing?

I’ve taken a hiatus from blogging. By hiatus, I mean a WEEK, which is eternity for me. I pride myself in being consistent with creating content, but when off-season training is in full swing, my creativity wanes a bit.

With winter off-season training finally coming to an end, the blogging is picking back up. And so is my “one-drink-a-night” social life.

For the past 3 months, the focus has been on getting athletes stronger, preparing for fitness tests, and ensuring kids are conditioned for the demands of the game. After every off-season I also do a little happy dance that no one died:


Yes, that’s me. Yes, I’m a fucking polar bear. And no, I’m not giving my SnapChat username to the webspace.

Anyway, I’m super pumped for today’s guest post with fellow strength and conditioning AND soccer coach, Allison Tenney. It’s exciting to see other females doing great things in the soccer world. Not to mention, other female coaches who have the wealth of experience and credentials they do. Allison is a CSCS, USAW, FMS, RKC, and SFG. Although the letters behind her name sound like an episode of “Pimp My Ride,” she still walks the walk and can coach the hell out of people. Enjoy.

When I first starting coaching soccer, I coached from a player’s perspective. This is pretty typical when you start out coaching since your experience dictates what you have learned and how you can best pass along information.

It is this idea of passing along information for a specific desired result that really seems to trip people up. If it worked for you, it should work for everyone else, right? Wrong. What works for one person, does not necessarily translate the same for someone else. We all learn differently and to coach any type of athlete (or any person for that matter), you have to figure out a few things FIRST…

  1. Start with “How are you doing?” or “How is your day going?”

Top level coaches have a plan. The best coaches know that the best plan can go out the window in a heart beat if your athlete or client show up and they have had a bad day, a terrible test, or are generally sleep deprived and stressed about LIFE. Simply asking how they are doing when they show up to train will allow you to make modification before they start. Your job is to help tailor that session so they get the most out of it. It does you no good to crush an athlete or client if they are super stressed and tired. In fact, you will do more harm than good.

You are applying stressors (training) to create a physiological adaptation. If your athlete/client is already in a stressed state, then the training session will not have the intended affect from an adaptation standpoint. This notion could be an entire blog post on it’s own because there is a cascade of effects that happen when your body is stressed and/or sleep deprived and not ready to train. It’s a bad combo. I’ll just leave it at that.

  1. What type of learner are they?

This was a hard one for me when I started coaching. I would explain SO CLEARLY to my soccer players the drill or game we were about to do. When the whistle blew, half of them still had blank stares. I had only gotten through to the players who are able to comprehend through verbal learning. Those that were visual or needed to walk through the drill (physical) were at a complete loss. It didn’t matter how crystal clear I was until they could see it and do it themselves.

When you are coaching your athletes and clients, explain and show them in different ways. There are a number of different learning styles. I am going to focus on three of them that apply more specifically to athletic and movement learning:

  1. Visual (spatial): You learn using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  2. Verbal (linguistic): You learn using words, both in speech and writing.
  3. Physical (kinesthetic): You learn using your body, hands, sense of touch.

Note from Erica: Above is just one example of a fun cue for a kinesthetic learner.

If you can incorporate more than one learning style when you are coaching, not only will you get through to more clients and athletes, you will also stimulate a number of different parts of their brain. This will enhance their learning process and give you better results.

Here is a quick example when you are thinking about coaching a Deadlift and getting someone to Hinge:

  1. “Stick your butt out”
  2. “Reach your hips back”
  3. Use a PVC pipe on their back and make sure they keep their head, back, and butt in contact with it as they hinge.
  4. Stand facing away from a wall and have them hinge and reach their butt to the wall.

You can see how maybe the first cue might not be the best, and how the others will all illicit a different sensation for someone learning how to hip hinge. If I continue to tell someone to “reach your hips back” and “keep your spine neutral” and they DON’T get it, it’s my fault, not theirs.


  1. External versus Internal cueing

Even when you are cueing athletes and clients, there can be a wide range of how they relate to what you say. Knowing how to cue to illicit the desired response can save you AND your client a lot of time and headaches.

External Cues use things that are outside of the body to modify a behavior.

Internal Cues rely on how you feel in your body and require you to make adjustments accordingly. (Wulf, 2007)

You need to figure out what type of cues your athletes and clients respond to best. What if you told your client to focus on their posture. Would you tell them to “sit up straight” or “retract your shoulder blades.” See the difference?

Here is another example when coaching a barbell front squat where you want your athlete/client to make sure to properly utilize their posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) and engage their core without “dumping” forward, specifically to get out of the bottom position:

  1. “Sit back into your heels”
  2. “Drive through your heels”
  3. “Push the ground away from you”
  4. “Drive your elbows up”

The goal is to get your client to engage their core and posterior chain to create the safest and strongest front squat. All of these cues will help them engage glutes and core, but are all slightly different. I have found that it works best to give athletes an external cue (“Drive your elbows up”) and follow up after to see where they felt it in their body. My friend Jen Sinkler uses an external cue that I love to steal. She has people pretend they have lasers shooting out of their elbows and you have to continue to keep those laser beams up as you come out of the bottom position. It’s a great external cue that forces core engagement and proper form.


  1. Stop talking already.

This one might be the most important. You can be the best coach ever, with the perfect coaching cues, and have all your progressions on point, but sometimes you just need to Shut Up and let them figure it out on their own. Find their biggest limiting factor and coach that ONE THING. Then stop there. Seriously.

Note from Erica: Stop over-coaching. Learning a new movement is enough stimulation for athletes and clients, so the last thing they want to hear is you picking apart their form like a nagging, neurotic girlfriend. 


  1. How did you make them FEEL?

At the end of the day people come to work with you because of how you make them feel. Yes, they want to sweat and work hard and improve. I get that. But if you don’t connect with them you are missing out on the most important thing; building a relationship. People you work with have to trust and like you if they are ever going to listen to you and continue to come back.

About the Author

Allison Tenney (CSCS, FMS, SFG, RKC) is a strength and conditioning and soccer coach based in Seattle, Washington. She is currently the head performance manager and coach for Seattle University Women’s Soccer, and has was the assistant coach for Cornell Women’s Soccer from 2007-2009. In addition to working with soccer players, she also is owner of Allison Tenney Fitness, where she uses her kettlebell and strength training expertise to help people live strong and fulfilling lives.

Website: www.allisontenneyfitness.com

1 Comment
  • Shane MCLEAN
    Posted at 20:24h, 26 February Reply

    Spot on Allison and I really enjoyed it.

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