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Training Principles


Training to improve an athlete's performance obeys the three principles of training, summarised here.

  1. Specificity
  2. Overload
  3. Reversibility


To improve the range of movement for a particular joint action, you have to perform exercises for the specific mobility requirements of a given event. The coach can analyse the technique of his/her event, identify which joint actions are involved and determine which need to be improved in terms of the range of movement. A thrower, for example, might require improvements in his/her shoulder and spine mobility. A hurdler might need to develop his/her hip mobility.

The amount and nature of the mobility training required by each athlete will vary according to the individual athlete's event requirements and his/her individual range of movement for each joint action. It may be necessary to measure the range of movement for particular joint actions to determine the present range and future improvement.

Specificity is an important principle in strength training, where the exercise must be specific to the type of strength required, and is therefore related to the particular demands of the event. The coach should have knowledge of the predominant types of muscular activity associated with his/her particular event, the movement pattern involved and the type of strength required.

Although specificity is important, it is necessary in every schedule to include exercises of a general nature (e.g. power clean, squat). These do not relate too closely to the movement of any athletic event. They do, however, give a balanced development, and provide a strong base upon which highly specific exercise can be built.

When an athlete performs high velocity strength work, the force he/she generates is relatively low and therefore fails to stimulate substantial muscular growth. If performed extensively the athlete may not be inducing maximum adaptation with the muscles. It is important therefore for the athlete to use fast and slow movements to fully train the muscles.


When an athlete performs a mobility exercise he/she should stretch to the end of his/her range of movement. In active mobility the end of the range of movement is known as the active end position. Improvements in mobility can only be achieved by working at or beyond the active end position.

Passive exercises involve passing the active end position, as the external force is able to move the limbs further than the active contracting of the protagonist muscles Kinetic mobility exercises use the momentum of the movement to bounce past the active end position

A muscle will only strengthen when forced to operate beyond its customary intensity. The load must be progressively increased in order to further adaptive responses as training develops and the training stimulus is gradually raised. Overload can be progressed by increasing these factors:

  1. The resistance e.g. adding 5kg to the barbell
  2. The number of repetitions with a particular weight
  3. The number of sets of the exercise (work)
  4. The intensity- more work in the same time, reducing the recovery periods


Improved ranges of movement can be achieved and maintained by regular use of mobility exercises. If an athlete ceases mobility training, his/her ranges of movement will decline over a period of time to those maintained by his/her other physical activities.

When training ceases the training effect will also stop. It eventually gradually reduces at approximately one third of the rate of acquisition.

Athletes must ensure that they continue strength training throughout the competitive period, although at a much reduced volume, or newly acquired strength will be lost




The coach will be required to facilitate the learning of new technical skills by the athletes. To achieve this the coach will need to develop his/her knowledge of the learning process and the various teaching methods.

Whole Practice

Ideally a skill should be taught as a whole as the athlete can appreciate the complete movement and execution of a skill. The whole method of instruction can sometimes mean the athlete having to handle complex movements e.g. the whole high jump technique.

Part Instruction

When a skill is complex or there is considered to be an element of danger for the athlete, then it is more appropriate to breakdown the complex movement into its constituent parts. The parts can then be taught and then linked together to develop the final skill.

When part instruction is used it is important that the athlete is demonstrated the whole skill so that they can appreciate the end product and understand how the set of parts will develop the skill.

Whole - Part - Whole Instruction

Initially the athlete attempts the whole skill and the coach monitors to identify those parts of the skill that the athlete is not executing correctly. Part instruction can then be used to address the limitations and then the athlete can repeat the whole skill with the coach monitoring for any further limitations. No one method is suitable to all occasions, but studies have shown that:

  • Simple skills (and perhaps 'simple' is relative to each individual) benefit from the whole method
  • Skills of intermediate difficulty benefit from the part method
  • Closed skills are often taught with part instruction
  • Difficult skills are best dealt with by oscillating between part and whole

Types of skill

There are a number of different types of skills:

  • Cognitive - or intellectual skills that require thought processes
  • Perceptual - interpretation of presented information
  • Motor - movement and muscle control
  • Perceptual motor - involve the thought, interpretation and movement skills

How to teach a new skill

The teaching of a new skill can be achieved by various methods:

  • Verbal instructions
  • Demonstration
  • Video
  • Diagrams
  • Photo sequences

The Learning Phases

There are three stages to learning a new skill and these are:

  • Cognitive phase: identification and development of the component parts of the skill
  • Associative phase: linking the component parts into a smooth action
  • Autonomous phase: developing the learned skill so that it becomes automatic

The leaning of physical skills requires the relevant movements to be assembled component by component, using feedback to shape and polish them into a smooth action. Rehearsal of the skill must be done regularly and correctly.

Technique Drills

Appropriate drills should be identified for each athlete to improve specific aspects of technique or to correct faults. Drills should not be copied slavishly but should be selected to produce a specific effect. e.g. Running Drills are used to develop important components of proper and economical running technique. Whichever drills are used they must be correct for the required action and should be the result of careful analysis and accurate observation.


Initially, compare visual feedback from the athlete's movement with the technical model to be achieved. Athletes should be encouraged to evaluate their own performance. In assessing the performance of an athlete consider the following points:

  • Are the basics correct?
  • Is the direction of the movement correct?
  • Is the rhythm correct?

It is important to ask athletes to remember how it felt when correct examples of movement are demonstrated (kinaesthetic feedback). Appropriate checklists/notes can be used to assist the coach in the assessment of an athlete's technique.

How faults are caused


Having assessed the performance and identified that there is a fault; you need to determine why this is happening. Faults can be caused by:

  • Incorrect understanding of the movement by the athlete
  • Poor physical abilities
  • Poor co-ordination of movement
  • Incorrect application of power
  • Lack of concentration
  • Inappropriate clothing or footwear
  • External factors e.g. weather conditions
  • Strategies and tactics

Strategies are the plans that we prepare in advance of a competition to place an individual or team in a winning position. Tactics are how we put these strategies into action. Athletes in the associative phase of learning will not be able to cope with strategies but the athlete in the autonomous phase should be able to apply strategies and tactics. To develop strategies and tactics we need to know:

  • The strengths and weaknesses of the opposition
  • Our own strengths and weaknesses
  • Environmental factors

An Eastern European Approach

Consideration must be given to the approach adopted by the former Eastern Bloc countries to technique training. The aim is to identify the most fundamental version of a technique, one that is basic and essential to more advanced techniques. Example for the shot - basic model would be the stand and throw, more advanced would be the step and throw and finally followed by the rotation method.

This fundamental component is taught first and established as the basis for all further progressions. Deriving from the fundamental component are exercises that directly reinforce the required movement patterns. These exercises are known as first degree derivatives. They contain no variations of movement that may confuse the learner.


There are four types of practice:

  • Variable - the skill is practiced in the range of situations that could be experienced. Open skills are best practiced in this way
  • Fixed - a specific movement is practiced repeatedly, known as a drill. Closed skills are best practiced in this way
  • Massed - a skill is practiced without a break until the skill is developed. Suitable when the skill is simple, motivation is high, purpose is to practice a skill, and the athletes are experienced
  • Distributed - breaks are taken whilst developing the skill. Suitable when the skill is new or complex, fatigue could result in injury, motivation is low or poor environmental conditions

Distributed practice is considered to be the most effective.


Communication is the art of successfully sharing meaningful information with people by means of an interchange of experience. Coaches wish to motivate the athletes they work with and to provide them with information that will allow them to train effectively and improve performance. Communication from the coach to athlete will initiate appropriate actions. This however, requires the athlete to not only receive the information from the coach but also to understand and accept it. Coaches need to ask themselves:

  • Do I have the athlete's attention?
  • Has the athlete understood?
  • Does the athlete believe what I am telling him/her?
  • Does the athlete accept what I am saying?
  • Am I explaining myself in an easily understood manner?

How to interpret non-verbal messages

At first, it may appear that face-to-face communication consists of taking it in turns to speak. While the coach is speaking the athlete is expected to listen and wait patiently until the coach finishes. On closer examination it can be seen that people resort to a variety of verbal and non-verbal behaviour in order to maintain a smooth flow of communication.

Such behaviour includes head-nods, smiles, frowns, bodily contact, eye movements, laughter, body posture, language and many other actions. The facial expressions of athletes provide feedback to the coach. Glazed or down turned eyes indicate boredom or disinterest, as does fidgeting. Fully raised eyebrows signal disbelief and half raised indicate puzzlement. Posture of the group provides a means by which their attitude to the coach may be judged and act as pointer to their mood. Control of a group demands that a coach should be sensitive to the signals being transmitted by the athletes. Their faces usually give a good indication of how they feel, and a good working knowledge of the meaning of non-verbal signals will prove invaluable to the coach.

Communication blocks

Difficulties in communicating with an athlete may be due a number of issues including the following:

  1. The athlete's perception of something is not the same as yours
  2. The athlete may jump to a conclusion instead of work through the process of hearing, understanding and accepting
  3. The athlete may lack the knowledge needed to understand what you are trying to communicate
  4. The athlete may lack the motivation to listen to you or to convert the information given into action
  5. The coach may have difficulty in expressing what you want say to the athlete
  6. Emotions may interfere in the communication process
  7. There may be a clash of personality between you and the athlete

These blocks to communication work both ways and coaches need to consider the process of communication carefully.

The six elements of effective communication


Effective communication contains six elements:

  • Clear: Ensure that the information is presented clearly
  • Concise: Be concise, do not lose the message by being long winded
  • Correct: Be accurate, avoid giving misleading information
  • Complete: Give all the information and not just part of it
  • Courteous: Be polite and non-threatening, avoid conflict
  • Constructive: Be positive, avoid being critical and negative

Be Positive

When coaches provide information to the athlete which will allow him/her to take actions to effect change it is important that they provide the information in a positive manner. Look for something positive to say first and then provide the information that will allow the athlete to effect a change of behaviour or action.


Coaches should:

  • Develop their verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • Ensure that they provide positive feedback during coaching sessions
  • Give all athletes in their training groups equal attention
  • Ensure that they not only talk to their athletes but they also listen to them as well

Improved communication skills will enable both the athlete and coach to gain much more from their coaching relationship.

  • The two main coaching styles
  • Four alternative coaching styles
  • How to monitor athletic performance
  • How to deal with a below average performance

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