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Can "Withitness Skills" be applied to coaching and personal training?

Dr Larry W. McDaniel Ed.D., Allen Jackson, M.Ed, and Dr Laura Gaudet, Ph.D. discuss "Whithitness" concepts related to physical education, classroom techniques, and how these ideas may be developed and utilized in related areas such as coaching and personal training.

Since the 1970's "withitness" has been emphasized as a vital classroom and physical education management skill (Kounin, 1970)[4]. "Withit" instructors develop the ability to know what is going on in the classroom or gym and reduce misbehaviour through observation skills. The purpose of this paper was to discuss how "withitness" may be used in areas other than physical education or the classroom.

How can "withitness" be used in coaching and personal training?

Coaches and personal trainers work in an environment similar to those who teach physical education. These professionals teach skills that require constant attention and feedback regarding how skill patterns are performed. In most cases, preventing misbehaviour is not a primary goal; instead, these professionals focus on proper technique, improved skill performance, and safety issues. For example, important "withit" skills include observation skills specific to visual search and tracking. Instructors' eyes must always be searching and focusing on the critical aspects of the skill. While auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic processes are occurring, these individuals will evaluate the movement and provide feedback that will improve skill performance in a safe environment.

"Withit" skills include:

  • Teach and monitor techniques used to perform skills
  • Use peripheral vision to detect any unusual skill movements when working with more than one person
  • Use peripheral vision working with a group by selecting a position on the perimeter
  • stay alert at all times
  • Use safety warnings at the beginning, throughout each skill taught, and at the end of the activity
  • Document potential injuries as soon as possible

When introducing new skills or relearning previously acquired skills, the following "withit" techniques may be used.

  • Conduct demonstrations
  • Provide constructive feedback
  • Utilize drills to practice the new skills being taught
  • Provide opportunities for practical application of the skill
  • Develop a plan for instruction
  • Issue safety warnings

"Withitness" skills may not only improve skill performance but reduce the risk of injury and liability issues. Both coaches and personal trainers teach fitness skills related to resistance training. Litigation and accountability remain vital considerations for those who practice physical training skills.

Withitness skills for those who work in resistance training

"Withitness" is a safety practice that involves the processes of anticipation and observation. The purpose of "withitness" is to prevent injuries and improve instructional techniques. One of the primary modalities of resistance training is weight training. Below is a list of "withit" techniques specific to weight training:

  • Selection of weight to be lifted
  • Demonstrate and teach proper technique
  • Monitor posture and joint alignment (biomechanics) when lifts are being performed
  • Frequently monitor stress placed on joints and lower back
  • Provide opportunities to warm muscles before lifting heavy weights and cool down afterward
  • Use a step progression and progress at a reasonable rate

Do not forget the basics, such as proper stance, grip, and lifting technique. Resistance training professionals emphasize proper technique by providing the following: demonstrations of the exercise, techniques to prevent injury to those performing the exercises, and tips for those who spot various exercises. Additional "withit" instructions include safety warnings, demonstrations, and advice specific to each new lift for spotters and those performing lifts.

With proper spacing, participants performing resistance training may exercise without injuring others. Coaches and trainers should check equipment and facilities at the start of each training session, during the sessions, and at the end of the session to prevent accidents. Additional "withitness" skills related to weight training involve the process of observing the speed of weight and its path. If the ends of the bar bearing the weight are uneven, the participant should stop the movement and place the weight on the floor or rack with good technique or assistance from a spotter. Then, the trainer adjusts the grip or weight and continues with the exercise. Slow bar speed may indicate fatigue is prevalent, and the lifter is close to failure in exercise completion.

Withitness skills for those who work in power training

Plyometric training involves the performance of skills that generate powerful muscle contractions. Before powerful contractions are initiated, a quick stretch of the muscle fibres involved should be performed. The muscle power is generated by the elasticity of the stretched muscle in its attempt to return to normal length combined with the muscle contraction of those same muscles. Some of the critical "withitness" elements related to plyometric training include the number of jumps and the height or depth of jumps. Training progressions should first utilize a level surface, then progress from low to progressively higher jumps, whether jumping up or down from boxes (depth jumps) or both. Concrete surfaces provide the most significant impact; avoid performing jumps on concrete. The effect of surfaces and the number of foot strikes should be considered when monitoring and developing plyometric programs.

The coach or trainer should establish a pre-test for lower body strength utilizing the performance of 3-6 repetitions with near maximum weight and proper technique. A pre-test should be completed by the coach or trainer to assist in the process of determining strength readiness for participants. Upper body plyometrics may be performed with medicine balls. "Withit" instructors begin by counting the number of throws and start the program with few repetitions, fewer sets, lighter medicine balls, and then progressively increase the intensity.

Spacing participants is a critical issue when utilizing medicine ball throws. It is essential to constantly observe the spacing of participants for a safe training environment. When coaching or instructing plyometric activities, instructors should focus on proper breathing, specific technique, step-wise progressions, and feedback on skill performance and motivation. Again, do not forget the basics, such as the correct stance and technique. Power training professionals emphasize proper technique by providing demonstrations of the exercise, tips to improve power skills, feedback on progress, and safety warnings.

Withitness tips for new coaches

For those just entering the professional field of coaching or training, it is typical to want to teach at all times. A significant component of effective teaching and leadership comes from one's ability to observe. Qualitative analysis is a key factor in recognizing inefficiencies in training techniques or procedures. Developing the ability to perform systematic qualitative analyses of selected athletic performances or other human movements will validate the worth of instruction.

By acquiring observational "withit" skills, the facilitator will become better able to detect and correct technique faults that may compromise the performance or result in athlete injury. Also, all professionals involved in human performance should stay current, be aware of the latest research findings of the biomechanics of selected sports. Remember, you do not have to teach all of the time to be successful. You will be surprised by the knowledge you will gain by employing well-designed observations of your athletes (Hinrichs, 2006)[2].


  1. COKER, C. A. (2004) Motor learning and control for practitioners. (5thed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
  2. HINRICHS, R. (2006) Qualitative analysis in sport biomechanics. Course syllabus, Arizona State University.
  3. JOHNSTON, D. (1995) Withitness: Real or fictional? Physical Educator, 95 (52), p. 22-27
  4. KOUNIN, J. (1970) Discipline and group management in classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  5. LUTTGENS, K. and HAMILTON, N. (2006) Kinesiology, scientific basis or human motion. (10th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
  6. McGILL, R. A. (2006) Motor learning and control: Concepts and applications. (8th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
  7. MELNICK, S. and MEISTER, D. (2008) A comparison of beginning and experienced teachers' concerns. Educational Research Quarterly, 31 (3), p. 39.
  8. WILMORE, J.H. and COSTILL, D.L. (2004) Physiology of sport & exercise. (3rd ed.) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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About the Authors

Dr Larry W. McDaniel Ed.D. is an Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Dakota State University Madison, SD. USA. Dr McDaniel was a First Team All-American football player (USA Football), a Hall of Fame Athlete, and Hall of Fame Wrestling Coach.

Allen Jackson, M. Ed. is an Assistant Professor of Physical Education and Health at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska (USA) who is well known for his presentations & publications at international conferences focusing on Leadership, Curriculum, and Health.

Dr Laura Gaudet, Ph.D. is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Counselling, Psychology and Social Work at Chadron State College, Chadron NE. She is well known for her publications and presentations at international conferences focusing on various topics in the field of psychology.