In this podcast I explain what makes for good coaching cues when trying to teach and learn skills on your mountain bike (or anywhere else for that matter). There is some fascinating research behind the language you use when thinking about or talking about a movement skill and I hope that you’ll learn something that can make your journey towards improving your skills faster and easier.

You can stream or download it from the link below or you can find it on Itunes, Podbean, Spotify and all other major podcasting platforms.

Click Here to Download the MP3 File

While I go into these things in a lot more detail in the podcast, here are the notes from it:

One of the most important things you can do as a rider is to invest in your technical skills. The better your skills are the safer you will be, the faster you can ride and the less energy you will use.

However, not all methods of coaching are created equal and some methods are demonstrably better than others. There is some fascinating science around the subject of cueing and teaching movement and sports skills and it has changed the way I coach based on it.

I was first exposed to some of these concepts at a presentation I heard from a coach named Nick Winkelman at a Perform Better Summit. He talked about how he was taking a deep dive into the science behind language and cueing movement and that there were some interesting things he had found about how certain types of language and cueing were much more effective than others.

I started to apply some of the things he talked about and found them to be helpful and more effective. Last year I came across the book he wrote called The Language of Coaching and in it he spelled out everything he had found in the last few years of researching and applying the science behind coaching movement skills.

At the end of the day, learning and coaching MTB skills are no different than learning how to lift properly, throw a fastball, swing a bat or kick a soccer ball or any other movement skill and so the findings are as applicable to our sport as any other. And it is important for you to know this stuff in case you need to help another rider learn a skill and so you know how to best approach your own learning.

The idea behind coaching any movement skill is to give your brain the input it needs to figure out how that skill should feel. The skills aren’t “Step 1, Step 2, Step 3…”, they are the principles you are applying and proper application will feel different than bad application.

The goal is to move beyond Step 1, ect. and not think about them when you ride. The best in the world aren’t thinking through the X Steps of Cornering when they are riding, they are going based on feel.

Like I tell people in BJJ class, the steps are not the technique. They are simply the window into the principles behind the technique and it is your job to use that window to learn them.

So this is why cueing is so important – they are the bridge between “knowing” and “feeling”. Good ones make that journey easier, bad ones can make it impossible for you to ever make it in the first place.

Based on Nick’s research here is what makes for good cueing:

  • Less is more. Most coaches tend to over cue a skill and give people too much to think about. While not science, my experience tells me that 3-5 cues per movement is the most someone can remember.
  • The body learns best through analogies that “stick” in the person’s head and that these analogies will be different for different people. People don’t think in exacting detail and analogies can help you pack a lot of cues into one.
  • Internal vs. External Cueing. The science clearly shows that External Cues that focus on something outside of the body are more effective than Internal Cues that focus on a body part or muscles.
  • Use Internal and External language for describing but focus on External for cueing.
  • Direction of the cue can also have an impact (moving away from vs. moving towards something)
  • Using tape can help you turn an Internal Cue into an External Cue

The best cues tend to find analogies that connect with the learner to describe the movement in an external way that allows quality movement with minimal thought. And remember that you need the Position before the Pattern – the best cue in the world won’t work if you can’t get into the positions you need to execute it.

Based on this, let’s look at some cues for Body Position on the bike.

  • Common Internal Cues include “bend at the hips”, “tuck your shoulders down and back” and the infamous “elbows out”.
  • Alternative cues could include “push your butt back like there is a button on the wall behind you and you need to push the button”, “tuck your shoulder blades into your back pockets” or “get even pressure across your palms into the bar”.
  • You could also use tape on the shoulders and back of the hands to help people understand how to lower their shoulders while the hips slide back while keeping their shoulders over the bar.

As you can see, it is easy to get caught up in Internal Cues because External Analogy based cues can take some more thought and they don’t all work the same so you have to be able to adjust based on the student. Take a look at how you have learned and apply your MTB skills and see how much Internal Technical based cues you use and see if you can find some External-Analogy based cues to replace them and see how it works.

I’ll be posting some videos in the coming months sharing new ways of learning MTB skills based on the science behind cueing. In the meantime, check out the www.bikejames.com, get the Atomic Strength Program and buy some Catalyst Pedals.

Until next time…

James Wilson

“All men are the same except for their belief in their own selves, regardless of what others may think of them.” – Miyamoto Musashi

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