I recently received the following inquiry from reader Howard Stein, “Bob, would you share your perceptual cues when watching a lift? My eyes seem to be either fixated on one point or all over the place.”
For quite a while I’d been planning on addressing this issue and Howard’s query has provided me with the prompt to move forward.
I frequently find myself standing next to other coaches at meets and very often I hear comments that make me wonder whether we were all watching the same lift. Some of the comments reflect wistful guessing as to what actually occurred in the lift while other comments merely reflect a one-size-fits-all approach to coaching.
First of all: If you have good drawing or sketching skills your visual acuity is probably such that watching lifts accurately is going to happen a lot more easily. Your ability to judge relative positions, and correct angles quickly is something that will make viewing lifts a much more accurate activity. If your drawing skills are not that great you just may have to put in that much more time to master the visual skills.
Watch and study sequence photos of good technique: To do some home study, all you need is to get some footage of technically good lifting. There are plenty of clips of technically sound lifts available online. The next thing to do is to download Kinovea. Kinovea is a free video player that can easily breakdown video into sequence shots. Just go to kinovea.org.
So get some clips of lifters performing technically sound lifts, preferably from the side. Load them into Kinovea and follow the directions to break them into sequence shots. You can then select the key ones such as lift-off, bar at knees, bar at power position, full hip and knee extension, elbows high to the side, and catch and amortization phases. Study these images diligently until they are etched into your brain. Once this has been done it should become easy to quickly distinguish aberrations from the ideals you’ve memorized.
Watch lots of live lifting (both good and bad). Once you’ve got an idea of what is a technically sound lift, you are then prepared to watch a lot of live lifting. While video is helpful, the timing is slightly off from live. Live lifting also allows you to closely associate the sounds of the lift with the visual input. In this way you can develop a feeling for the rhythm of a lift. Incidentally it is possible to determine technical errors from the sound of a lift.
Watch lifting with a knowledgeable coach: This is probably one of the better ways to learn how to watch lifts. Sitting with a knowledgeable coach and discussing lifts as they take place in the gym is one way to learn what the trained eye should be seeing. This will provide a shortcut in developing your coaching eye.
There are really no secrets, just lots of reps: In short you have to know what to look for, know what it looks like and then watch a lot of it until seeing it becomes second nature. While an individual with a skilled eye for watching another sports event might have an advantage there is still no short-cut that will cut down the minimum number of views it takes for a prospective coach to develop the visual skills necessary to become a skilled coach. Knowing what you are looking for is a big first step, however.