Look Me in the Eye When I Am Talking to You

I don’t know how many times I have heard coaches say this. Way too many for me, I know. It always bothers me. And perhaps it bothers me more, because it is apparently never an issue for gymnasts to look their coach in the eye, when they are being congratulated. The real reason it bothers me is because the coach is always implying that the gymnast is not paying attention to them and what they are talking about. And when I can see that is not true, then why can’t the coach.

Coaches Need to Learn Learning Modalities

This also has a lot to do with so many coaches not being educated in the science of teaching, particularly not understanding the importance of learning modalities. I don’t care what drill sergeant, strict paternal figure or former coach they are mimicking, I just want coaches to understand that different gymnasts learn differently and that “looking down” may very well mean a gymnast IS paying attention to them.

VAK – Visual, Auditory & Kinesthetic and Tactile

There are different learning modalities. Learning modalities are the particular sensory channels through which people receive and store information. There are five senses, but primarily only three major learning modalities (VAK – Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic and tactile). Scientists and researchers have tested and determined the percentages of dominant learning modalities to be:

  • Visual – 25-30%
  • Auditory – 25-30%
  • Kinesthetic – 15%
  • Mixed – 25-30%

That means that at most, only about 30% of gymnasts will remember most of what is said by a coach lecturing them. Another 30% may get some of it through mixed modality learning.

“See What I Mean?”

Visual learners are those who learn by seeing. These type of gymnasts need to see demonstrations, pictures, videos or read text books (and see it in their mind) to best understand any concept.

“Are You Hearing Me?” and “Can You Hear What I am Saying?”

Auditory learners are those who need to hear what they are learning to best understand it. They enjoy being read to and listening, but often cannot wait to have a chance to talk themselves. These gymnasts can respond well to lecturing and interpersonal communication. Auditory learners will tend to look either left or right or down and left, when they are focusing on learning.

“Do You Feel Me?” and “Get a Grip on This”

Kinesthetic/tactile learners need to feel (physically and/or emotionally) what they are learning. These gymnasts learn best if movement is involved. Kinesthetic learners will tend to look down and to the right when they are concentrating on learning.

Gymnasts Also Perform Using Their Preferred Modalities

Any kind of instruction, teaching or communication geared to a different type of learner, can either fail to get through at all, or the learning or communication process can be limited. Coaches should know that not only do gymnasts learn through modalities, but also often perform using their preferred modality. Visual gymnasts will spot when they dance and tumble. But many kinesthetic gymnasts will tumble and vault with their eyes closed, so they can better feel where they are.

Train Multiple Modalities From the Beginning for Safety

This is not to say that gymnasts should not be taught to use all possible methods of learning and to get feedback while they are performing. But if you take a kinesthetic gymnast, who is already successfully doing double backs with their eyes closed and try to make them spot, you better make sure they are doing those double backs into a loose foam safety pit, or you could be causing serious problems. You better have taught them to use all their senses from the very beginning or you may be making a big mistake and putting them in danger.

Do NOT Try to Read to Me

Additionally, I know from personal experience, that the wrong kind of attempted “teaching” can do more that just fail to get through. I hate to be read to. I read really fast (up to a 1000 words a minute) and I hate to have to waste my time, sitting there while someone reads out loud to me, something that I could read and understand five times faster. It annoys me. It irritates me. More to the point, I never learn anything that way. I am so consumed with how much it bothers me, I can’t pay attention to whatever it is that they are saying. Using the wrong modality to try to teach someone something can be a waste of everyone’s time.

Did You Want Them to Look or Listen?

Back to coaches who force gymnasts to “look” (visual modality) at them when they are talking. At least 40 – 50% of the time, gymnasts are either auditory or kinesthetic learners, so “looking” at the coach is forcing them to use a modality, they don’t really learn well from (if at all). It may be that a coach is a visual learner, and just assumes (incorrectly) that everyone else learns like him, by looking. But effective coaches and teachers would understand the different learning modalities. And even if the coaches do not purposely utilize mixed modalites for their teaching or communications, they would at least be tolerant, and let gymnasts adapt as they have had to, through many years of learning experience, to what they have found best suited to their own personal style of learning.

Different Sensory Functions Access Different Parts of the Brain

Looking and listening are two separate mental processes, that access completely different parts of the brain. And if a coach forces a gymnast to look, they are forcing them to switch to a different part of their brain that “sees” and move away from the part of their brain that “hears” what the coach is trying to say. So, even for visual learners, the coach may be causing more problems than they think they are solving.

Coaches, Get It Right

Most gymnasts, to some degree, learn with all their modalities, but some gymnasts may have strengths and weaknesses in one or more modalities and like me, gymnasts who are strong in the visual modality will be frustrated with just verbal explanations. And they may be even less effective in learning whatever it is the coach is trying to get across of they are forced to “look” when the coach really wants them to “listen”. If you really want to get through to gymnasts and teach them effectively, teach using all of the VAK modalities from the very beginning.

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