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“I’ve really focused on my use of language with the players this year,” he begins. “And it stems from recent research that challenges the notion of ‘correct’ technique in every exercise that you perform. It is questioning the idea that you can just drill something over and over again to ‘get’ it, whereas there’s a growing understanding that a coach can use a number of effective cues that are more externally-focused than internally-focused that give you better bang for your buck.”
The Leaders Performance Institute asks Ahmun to break that idea of internal vs external. He replies: “I had always been a ‘by the script’ kind of coach. I would previously approach a role with the view that I needed to make them better athletes. I’d worry about numbers, squats, speed – these are internal. This time I was more interested in making them better cricket players, which meant relating everything they did on the field or in the gym back to their performance. I challenged them to ask me at any point ‘how will this make me a better cricketer’ and I would always provide them with an answer and a game-specific scenario – these would be external.”
Often it came down to the aforementioned use of language. “If you need the players to perform a movement and you issue instructions like ‘head and shoulders back’ or ‘hips back’ there’s research to suggest that these instructions can compromise performance because the athlete is suddenly thinking about these; the alternative is to give them an external cue to focus on; something outside of the body for them to think about or an analogy that helps them to pick up movements quicker.”
What would be some examples of the cues an S&C coach might use? “What you’re trying to get out of that cue is a movement. So if there’s a running drill and they’re not lifting their knees up during the sprint then a good external cue would be to tell them ‘imagine you’re running through knee-high grass or knee-high water’. You’re trying to create analogies and visual images to try and ensure better translation into performance. In coaching terms, this has been a big challenge for me, but that kind of cuing gives you better transfer to performance.”
Ahmun will also tailor his approach to the individual athlete: “You have to know who you’re dealing with and then you structure your language and your approach around that in order to get the most out of the player. You have to mirror that person’s approach so there’s not a clash.”
The message is: be mindful of your language.