Coach’s Corner: The Importance of Modeling

The Importance of Modeling

The following post is an article I wrote during graduate school about the use of modeling and its effectiveness in coaching and teaching.  This post is  a little more formal, but the content is valuable and can be applied in many areas of coaching and learning.  I hope you enjoy it! 

Modeling is a popular technique in coaching that involves demonstration as the primary method of delivering information regarding a specific skill (Magill, 2011).  Modeling is used as a coaching technique primarily because it is easy to convey complex skills that otherwise would be difficult to articulate.  Many coaches are former athletes of the sports they coach and find it easy to demonstrate certain skills and have their players model their behavior. There are certain drawbacks to modeling, however, and it may necessary for trainers, sport coaches and even physical therapists to have an alternate technique of teaching a complex skill.

One slightly different approach to modeling is reversing the roles to have the athlete demonstrate a movement to the coach or trainer.  This can be a useful diagnostic tool and can help the coach or trainer pin point flaws in movement and use their time as efficiently as possible.  Often when an athlete has an injury and visits their primary physician, he or she may ask what movement might be causing their dysfunction.  If that athlete indicates that they have knee pain after running, the doctor will most likely advise them to discontinue running.  It is a reasonable response given that running is causing knee pain, it would be best to discontinue running.  The doctor, not being a running coach, may not ask you to run to the end of the block and back to determine if your foot strike is causing your pain.  In my experience with clients in a recreational capacity, not all skills need to be re-developed and adding an extra component to think about and model after may distract from the true goal of the session.  I prefer to explain briefly what I would like to see and ask the athlete to perform the demonstration back to me to the best of their ability.  I believe it helps the athlete internalize the movement and allows the coach or trainer to begin with positive feedback and highlight the movements that are performed correctly.

One argument against modeling is that the skills being demonstrated may place unnecessary parameters on the athlete (Williams & Hodges, 2005).  Since athletes have different body types and abilities in terms of strength and mobility, an exercise like the squat may look different when performed by different coaches or trainers for purposes of a demonstration.  For some of my older clients, a demonstration of a skill that I have performed for years, may be intimidating and discouraging if they do not have the capacity to perform the movement the same way.  In addition, some movements I may demonstrate might not look exactly like the desired outcome I would like to see in my client.  Sometimes it is useful to have a third party demonstrate while the coach or trainer explains the key components of stability in each position.  Rather than describing all of the movement requirements to achieve the outcome, simply explain the most important components of stability and safety in the position or positions.  This will allow the athlete to reach the same end results by their own methods while keeping them safe and within certain technical parameters.

One strategy I find exceptionally helpful is using a client or athlete as their own demonstration.  The use of video to analyze movement patterns can assist an athlete who is developing new skills.  Allowing them to see themselves performing the movement first and then coaching the positive points and areas where improvement is needed is a great way to have them model themselves instead of modeling another athlete or coach.  While conducting a running clinic, one athlete was having difficulty with pulling the foot from the ground and creating contact under the hips.  I modeled this for her in many different ways using drills and demonstrations, but after videoing her run and showing her the areas we had been discussing she was able to correct the faults quickly.  The use of video in coaching has become very popular and is more accessible than ever before.  Having an athlete see themselves helps them to visualize and feel themselves making errors and allows them to correct them on their own.  In addition, seeing themselves performing a movement correctly can reinforce good movement and give the athlete a great deal of confidence.


Magill, R. A. (2011). Motor learning and control: Concepts and applications (9th ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Williams, A. M., & Hodges, N. J. (2005). Practice, instruction and skill acquisition in soccer:  Challenging tradition.  Journal of Sport Sciences, 23(6), 637-650.

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