elitefts™ Sunday Edition

The title of strength coach is widely used for individuals who have a presence and responsibility for teaching in a weight room. Within any common definition of strength coach is some variation of the term “teaching.” However, if you are a strength coach in an educational setting, your title goes beyond strength coach. You are an educator.

Educational philosophy and instructional best practices should be a consideration in the execution of coaching since at the heart of the position is being an instructor or teacher.

As an educator, my job is to deliver quality and effective instruction for all students. Quality and effective instruction relates to instructional methodologies and delivery. I would be fired in an instant if I felt and spoke of how my instruction changes for Asian students, female students, black students, Jewish students, or homosexual students. When I prepare my lessons, I am thinking about ALL students. I am measuring ALL of my students' performance and identifying how my instructional methods need to change in order to meet student needs, support positive learning data for all students, and then provide supplemental learning opportunities for those students who are not making progress. Never in a million years would I break down classroom performance by racial, religious, or sexual preferences.

Never in a million years would I consider or say, “Well, there are Asian students in this class. I need to make sure I am on my game to deliver this statistical theory lesson,” or “Geezzz…another class of mostly females. I better get the basic math books out and make sure there are enough calculators. Good thing I am wearing pink today.”

On the other end of the spectrum is my responsibility as a special educator. Having extensive knowledge of my students’ disabilities and individual learning needs is required in order to plan and execute effective instruction in order to meet goals outlined on their Individualized Education Plan. Within special education, that is a professional responsibility. However, the last time I checked, being a female is not a disability identified within The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act.

As a competent female in the strength world, I see things differently than many of my male counterparts. My experience has taught me that those coaches and professionals who are comfortable and confident in their skills do not focus on gender issues. They know how to work with different people and with different abilities. It is in their nature. Far too often the message being portrayed to women interested in strength training is very similar to this video (below). Watch the whole thing, it’s funny. There are also shreds of truth and reality that is commonly translated into strength training instruction for women on a daily basis.

It concerns me when strength and conditioning and fitness professionals freely and openly discuss women in the weight room and how they should be approached and treated differently. A more effective approach to the gender issue should involve how you can make learning relevant and accessible for all students. Effective instruction targets all students without focusing on one group or population of students.

An effective lesson for all students has some basic elements. When executed, student performance should be increased along with their connections and understanding of the information. Here are some general tips for implementing effective instruction in the weight room, or wherever it might be, to ensure student success.

The introduction is the most important part of a lesson.

This is the time the instructor connects the lesson to the students. When the students perceive that the information is relevant and meaningful, they are engaged in the lesson and more likely to apply implementation outside the weight room. Part of the introduction is communicating the importance and selling what it is you’re trying to educate them on. Identify and share the learning outcomes and expectations for performance. When expectations are high, achievement is high. When students understand how they will be assessed, engagement is increased.

After the delivery of your instruction, check for understanding.

Through effective questioning, you can quickly determine who understands the information and provide the students with opportunities to share and repeat the information and the expectations. Oftentimes, the quick and easy question is, “Are there any questions?” Be specific and ask questions with purpose.

Next, it is time to demonstrate the skill to be acquired.

Demonstration involves showing the whole skill, breaking the skills down, showing the skill in regular time,and also showing it at a slower pace. The skill should be demonstrated by highlighting key components and provide short and meaningful cues to guide student learning. Limit cues to no more than three, allowing for mastery of each skill. Implement the cues throughout the lesson in order to support and remind students.

Provide students with constructive feedback throughout the lesson.

“Good job!” is not specific and does not provide cues and reinforcement of what the student performed well. Implement some performance checks that require the student to demonstrate key points of the lesson. Once the lesson is over, time if often limited. It is suicide to simply end the session with a token, “OK, that’s it for today guys.” This is the critical time to review the information and reinforce the content and how it applies to the student. Ending a session without proper closure is neglecting a valuable opportunity to reinforce the learning of the day.

Here are some quick tips to help you engage all students and ensure their understanding of the skill being taught:

  • Provide instruction in segments. Giving out too much detailed instruction is overwhelming for students, and they often lose focus on finer points that are being made.
  • Provide challenges to increase student motivation.
  • Limit talking and increase practice opportunities.
  • Give students the opportunity to instruct one another through the different movements.
  • Communicate a caring demeanor, but also demand excellence and performance.
  • Use humor in order to ease the tension and nervous energy for the newcomers. Never use sarcasm, and the only person you should ever make fun of is yourself. Unless you're Dave Tate, then it's all funny.
  • Provide opportunities for your own professional reflection. Identify things you can do to make the next session better, better engage the students, and increase student performance.
  • Motivating students is critical. Provide specific praise related to performance, effort, approximation to the concept, and overall performance.
  • Treat all students equally with equal expectations and respect.

Here is a great visual to help you when determining how to most effectively implement instruction and which strategies to use. The actual percentages are argued within the research; however, the main idea remains the same.