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Teaching Methods

As a coach, you will be required to facilitate your athletes' learning of new technical skills. To achieve this, you must develop your knowledge of the learning process and the various teaching methods.

Pedagogy and Andragogy

Pedagogy and Andragogy are used to describe the art and science of teaching. Teachers who lecture to their students (e.g. child education in schools) are considered pedagogy (teacher-centred). Teachers who take on a facilitating role by directing the students in the learning process (e.g. adult and further education) are considered to be andragogy (student centred).

Applied to Coaching

In the pedagogic model, the coach assumes responsibility for deciding what will be learned, how it will be learned, and when it will be learned. The coach directs the learning. In the andragogy model, the coach helps the athlete learn (facilitator). The athlete leads the learning.

Simple and Complex Skills

Simple and complex are terms used to describe a skill. Simple skills are ones that an athlete finds easy to perform, whereas complex skills are ones that the athlete finds more challenging. Remember, what is a simple skill to one athlete may be complex for another, so as a coach, you need to determine how each athlete perceives the skill.

Whole Practice

Ideally, skill should be taught as a whole as the athlete can appreciate a skill's complete movement and execution. The entire instruction method can sometimes mean the athlete has to handle complex movements, e.g. the entire high jump technique.

Part Instruction

When a skill is complex or considered an element of danger for the athlete, it is more appropriate to break down the complex movement into its constituent parts. The parts can then be taught and linked to developing the final skill. When a part instruction is used, the athlete must be demonstrated the whole skill to appreciate the product and understand how the set of parts will develop the skill.

Whole-Part-Whole Instruction

Initially, the athlete attempts the whole skill, and the coach monitors to identify those parts of the skill that the athlete is not executing correctly. Part instruction can then be used to address the limitations, and the athlete can repeat the whole skill with the coach monitoring for further limitations.

No one method is suitable for all occasions, but studies have shown that:

  • simple skills (and perhaps simple is relative to each individual) benefit from the whole method
  • skills of intermediate difficulty benefit from the part method
  • closed skills are often taught with part instruction
  • difficult skills are best dealt with by oscillating between part and whole


Shaping is suitable for complex actions with simultaneous elements, e.g. hurdling. Hurdling is frequently seen as a complex skill by beginners because of the event rules and their concern about hitting the hurdles. A possible sequence to shape the hurdling skill over several training sessions is as follows:

  • athlete to run over 5 to 10 cones adjusted to allow the athlete to take 3 strides between each cone - develop a running rhythm between the hurdles
  • replace the cones with low obstacles, e.g. six-inch-high hurdles or lower, that offer no resistance if hit
  • use hurdles set at the lowest height with no toppling weight
  • gradually adjust the hurdle height and spacing to competition requirements for the athlete's age group


Breaking an action down into parts is called chaining and is only suitable for complex actions with sequential parts, e.g. triple jump. A possible sequence to chain the hop, step and jump phases of the triple jump is as follows:

  • demonstrate the whole action
  • demonstrate the hop phase and let them practice
  • demonstrate the hop and step phases and let them practice
  • demonstrate the hop, step and jump phases and let them practice

An Eastern European Approach

Consideration must be given to the approach adopted by the former Eastern Bloc countries to technique training. The aim is to identify the most basic version of a technique, basic and essential to more advanced techniques. For example, for the shot - the basic model would be the stand and throw, more advanced would be the step and throw and finally followed by the rotation method.

Types of Practice

There are four types of practice:

  • Variable - the skill is practiced in the range of situations that could be experienced - Open skills are best practiced in this way
  • Fixed - a specific movement is practiced repeatedly, known as a drill - Closed skills are best practiced in this way
  • Massed - a skill is practiced without a break until the skill is developed. Suitable when the skill is simple, motivation is high, the purpose is to practice a skill, or the athletes are experienced
  • Distributed - breaks are taken while developing the skill. Suitable when the skill is new or complex, fatigue could result in injury or low motivation

Distributed practice is considered the most effective.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2000) Teaching Methods [WWW] Available from: [Accessed