You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know: The Difference Between Performance and Coaching Knowledge

If you know how to perform a movement then you know how to coach it… right? Is there a real difference in your personal ability to perform a movement and coach it? That’s what we’re going to explore in this blog.
bigheadedSo There I was at 24… about to graduate with a M.S. in Exercise Physiology AND I just landed a job as a Fitness Center Director at a YMCA paying what I thought was a lot of money (it wasn’t). I was the man (I wasn’t). I knew everything (I didn’t).  This was especially the case in training. I was taught how to perform countless strength, power, and flexibility exercises in my 6 years of school. I mean if I knew to how to perform a movement then I knew how to coach it. Right? If someone came to me with information that was new to me in coaching or fitness (and probably anything else) it was stupid. I figured if it mattered I would have  already already known about it. This was the way I decided to start my career. Fast forward 10+ years later and now I have a profound appreciation for all the things I don’t know. There’s a lot that I don’t know and I’m ok with that… now this is despite the fact I read as much as I can and am myself an educator.

When teaching in a seminar or university setting you get to work with the full spectrum of people. I see drastically different personalities, philosophies, perspectives, and of course… egos, but that’s what can make teaching great. It’s always different, and the teacher usually ends up learning right along with the students. However, there is an attitude I see entirely too much in younger professionals and those new to our field. It’s that same one I had when I was 24. 

They believe because they personally know how to perform a movement or use a particular modality in their own workouts, they automatically know how to teach and coach.

Here’s what I mean:

: It’s great to have you here today. What do you want to get out of this course?YOU DONT KNOW_crop

student: I’m taking this seminar for the CEUs. I already use ________ (insert modality).

me: That’s great you already use _________. Do you have any formal training?

student: No… I just started using it on my own and figured it out.

me: Do you use ________ with your clients?

student: All the time.

me: Ok… Well I hope you still learn something from us today.

dontknowRarely, the student is great at evaluating and coaching.  However, they frequently are not. They don’t know what they don’t know. To be clear, I am all about trying new things, particularly when it comes to movement. There’s nothing wrong with picking up a mace or kettlebell and trying to figure out how to perform movements on your own. However, there is almost always a need to be coached by an expert to fine tune what you are doing.  This is especially true if you plan to coach these movements. Even if you are athletic and good at movement skills, there is always room to learn more about how you perform, how others perform, and how to teach performance.  

At Fit EDU, we firmly believe personal performance of a skill is a critical step in the learning process. However, it is only 1/3 of the process needed to become a great movement coach for that skill. Here is the model we have found to be the most effective in improving movement coaching.

PERFORM: The student learns the movement/skill and works on it independently. After becoming more comfortable with this skill, they are coached to help improve their performance. In this scenario, it is important that the student can perform the most critical aspects of the skill, well. We do NOT believe perfecting said movement skill is the most important thing. However, the student needs to understand where they need to improve and how to do so. Gaining familiarity with the new movement allows the student to develop and understand the component parts of a skill.

:  It is critical that the student begins to watch others perform the skill. They also must begin to look at others with a “coach’s eye”. An understanding of how to evaluate a skill by watching it must be developed. Where do you look first, second, etc. Is the sequence optimal? Is the spine remaining neutral? What about head and shoulder position? Is that knee valgus? The point is, there’s so much to look at. You need an organized system so you can manage all this information and appropriately address movement flaws.TGU

COACH:  Here is where the rubber meets the road. The student becomes the coach. Becoming a great coach is a long and very fluid process. While there are a lot of different roads one can take to become a great movement coach, our approach is sequentially outlined below.

  • Chunking: the student needs to learn how to break down a skill into small, sequential, and usable parts. You need a good coach to help you with this one!
    • For example: how do you break down a Turkish Get-Up?
  • Cuing: Learning which verbal and tactile cues are needed to elicit the desired response is critical. It’s not just WHICH cues to use, but also WHEN to use them.  It’s also knowing when to offer guidance and when to keep your mouth shut. An overload of cues can be a significant hindrance to learning.
  • Coaching Drills: In life and movement things go wrong. A lot. Implementing proper drills are something we think separates a good coach and great coach. The majority of our schooling in the field (college or certification preparation) focuses on how to teach skills and assumes everything will go well when you follow a given format. This usually doesn’t work. When a movement issue arises, how do you remedy this flaw? If cuing didn’t work, we think the answer is coaching drills, or as we always say “drills that enhance skills”. In this scenario, a coach must be able to identify a movement issue and then have a series of coaching drills they can implement in order to “fix” the issue.
    • For example: If a client is having difficulty maintaining a neutral spine and getting tight at the top of a kettlebell swing, we like to add different bracing drills to improve the skill.

The moral of the story is don’t be the 24 year old me. It’s ok that you don’t know everything. Embrace it and do all you can to continue learning. Be open to learning new ways of evaluation and coaching movement you are already using in your training and with your clients. If you don’t you will eventually miss a nugget that might have helped you.
Our perform, evaluate, coach method of making great movement coaches is used in every one of our 8 seminars. Check out our offerings at and keep learning!


The article was written by Joe Chaitkin of Fit EDU.

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