I used to think of a coach as someone who always used verbal instruction to create change in behavior, and I believe that comes from growing up playing team sports and having coaches verbally instruct during games and practices. However, now I understand that verbal instruction is just the educational piece of athletic coaching. It is the conversation between teacher and student, and if done well, the student learns a lesson conceptually and uses the learned concept as a gauge during performance. In this aspect of coaching, the coach has created a mental change in the student, which in my opinion is the best use of verbal instruction. Outside of education, verbal instruction should be limited. So if verbal instruction is educational at best, how do coaches create physical change in their athletes? I believe the answer is by creating physical environments that require the desired physical behavior from the students. It is student's own interaction with the environment that stimulates the physical change desired by the coach. A good coach can create this environment, trust it, and keep his or her mouth shut with little or no verbal instruction while the students adapt on their own. This aspect of coaching hinges on the process of plasticity.
Plasticity - n - the quality of being easily shaped or molded.
Biological definition - the adaptability of an organism to changes in its environment or differences between its various habitats.
No population is more plastic than youth, as they are in the midst of the most rapid phase of their physical development. If we could remove all the environmental stresses that inhibit or negatively alter the natural function of their body (chairs, cellphones, stiff - narrow - overly cushioned shoes, refined - processed foods, etc) there would be little to no need to talk to them about running technique. Efficient biomechanical and physiological running technique is within our DNA, as it is a natural gait pattern learned without instruction. But alas, in this day and age there is a plethora of environmental aspects and lifestyle choices that inhibit or alter their innate function to run efficiently.
Coaches and trainers can still win the day though by forming a plan that will help them undo the muscle imbalances, and subsequent inefficient motor patterns, and return them to a state of natural function in which they can continue to flourish on their own. And I am happy to say, there is one such environment that is already created for coaches to use, and that is the TrueForm Runner. And it is no surprise to me that I am seeing such success by coaches and trainers who are already using the TrueForm Runner as the environment in which the majority of the running is accomplished (versus the road/track) because it naturally elicits the biomechanical and physiological responses needed to create more efficient preferred movement patterns due to increases in strength and endurance. Yes, the TrueForm can be (and should be) used as an ancillary tool for learning elements of running technique, but I think the more powerful use of the TrueForm is making it the preferred environment for running. After being taught the motions of technique, the elements of good running form will naturally emerge as the relative strength and endurance is acquired over time by adapting to the TrueForm.
Let's take everything I just spit out above and apply it a recently shared video from one of our clients.
The TrueForm Runner is by design an environment that will elicit changes postural muscle endurance and locomotive power by running at various speeds, which overtime will naturally improve running technique. The only verbal coaching that needs to be done is during the introductory session of the TrueForm Runner with the student or during a planned technique session. Such verbal instruction could include:
- "Do you feel how leaning too far forward affects your balance?"
- "Lift your knees higher"
- "Keep your head up"
- "Run quietly"
- "Do you feel how reaching too far out with your leg slows you down?"
So in the above video where the intent of the coach was to work on strength and power, none of the above needs to be said. Eventually the student will be strong enough to sprint just as fast (and faster) with less forward trunk lean by generating more power from stronger hips and feet, thus lessening the need for so much counter-weight action in her arms. It is just a matter of time. The changes in plasticity are greater in her spending time adapting to the environment, than her spending time hearing verbal instruction and making form corrections for short periods of time.
Another student was given initial verbal coaching about the TrueForm and understood the concepts taught. On left was one his first times on the TrueForm, and clearly it shows in his running gait that he lacks the strength to execute the elements of efficient running technique, even though he was taught the elements. On the right is the same student running after 6 months of continued strength training on and off the TrueForm Runner. The elements of efficient running technique are certainly emerging, and this is because he is adapting to the TrueForm not because his coach is instructing him to run more upright or with quicker cadence. This is plasticity, his adaptation to the environment, and it is more powerful than any verbal cue.