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Coaching and Language

As a special education teacher, I take a lot of professional development classes and most of them are on the topic of behavior. We discuss working with students who have unique needs and the strategies for assisting them with learning the curriculum. One of the best things I’ve learned through these courses is that verbal directives should be kept short and should only contain single-step requests. In other words, we should ask the student to complete one task per statement. The statements themselves should be separated so that the student can achieve the first task before receiving additional directions. That way, they are better able to process and comply with the demands without getting frustrated or displaying inappropriate behaviors.

I take this advice with me every time I teach a Spinning® class. Even though I’m working with typical adults, keeping each coaching cue to a singular point is the most direct way I have found to keep everyone engaged and successful.

Think of a typical class environment: The room has dim lighting, the music is loud, and participants are working at levels that demand complete focus on both form and safety. They derive energy from your environment which includes your rhythmic music selections. They try to immerse themselves in the flow and feel you have taken so much time to prepare. The quickest way to intrude on that connection is to talk too much. Words become secondary once the workout begins. Students get warm and begin to listen to the responses of their bodies. As they look for motivation and energy, they seek out music or the other riders in the room. The instructor’s directives begin to diminish in their importance. Not because the instructor doesn’t know what to say or how to coach, it’s simply a matter of time. Students have replaced the need for direction with the messages being sent from their own bodies and those from the songs being played. They have little time (and space) left for the instructor. They are much too busy processing the other forms of information and passing it along to their legs, hands, and hearts.

When the window for meaningful instruction begins to close, an instructor should start using more powerful and direct language. When statements begin to take on the feel of small stories, they become lost in the environment and meaningless to the participants. The best words to use in these situations are the ones that can invoke both a physical and visual imprint on everyone’s mind. Singular words are best, especially when the intensity is at a high level. Most of these words are very common and easy to process while each individual is pushing themselves. A few that I recommend include: circles, tall, vision, length, and soft. Each example provides the students with an immediate visual connection to an intended response. They help identify one aspect of proper technique. When they are combined with an ability to model the instructor, they become meaningful and not overpowering.

Short statements and phrases also have their places in the workout environment. Here again, direct and to the point will yield the most positive results. The statements should include actions that are easily achieved and open enough that each participant can derive personalized meaning from them.  Some examples might include:

“Turn right and make the hill heavy.”
“Add enough to slow the cadence.”
“Maintain those circles as you stand.”
“Watch the road in front of you.”

These examples are meant to identify only a small aspect of what is occurring in the room. If prompts are evenly separated throughout the ride, they begin to form a structure of knowledge that can be continually added to. Early in a training session, students are not working at high levels so they are more able to learn about, and practice, proper techniques.  Instructors can take a little more time to emphasize and coach specific areas of the program. As the workout demands increase, the instructor should begin to reduce the length of each coaching point until it is simplified into a singular word. That word becomes the summation of the continuous teaching efforts that have taken place prior to that one moment in class. Even though it is spoken as a singular word, it carries an immense amount of power.

Students require a variety of coaching styles to stay focused. They seek us out based on our music selections, training backgrounds, or simply because of our time slots. No matter how they reach our classrooms, we strive to provide them with the safest and most challenging classes we can.

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