How I’m Helping Ninjas Develop Autonomy

Hey friends, in the next 5 minutes I want to tell you about a coaching strategy that I’ve been using recently to help the Ninjas @MFFClubhouse develop more body awareness and autonomy at the same time. Here’s the origin story for this specific coaching technique:

One of the things that I’ve learned in my time coaching is that at the beginning of a workout, movement quality typically improves. It doesn’t happen as a result of my specific instruction, but rather it’s thanks to the inherent mindfulness and kinesthetic awareness of each Ninja. When I first started to observe this, I began starting classes with a set that we used to “dust off the cobwebs” and consciously abstain from offering feedback.

Why? Basically, if something doesn’t feel right when we’re moving, we have inherent wisdom to make changes, and I trust that wisdom for literally everybody that I train.

At #PBFTS this year, I got to see coaching expert Nick Winkelman discuss how to maximize the benefit of your instruction in the quality of your cueing for years now. Nick said two things that really resonated with me:

My coaching has always been driven by the goal of Ninja-autonomy, and as Nick spoke to the idea that a client should not need to be receiving cues all the time, I considered this idea that good coaching isn’t about talking the entire time, but about giving space for people to process what’s going on.

As a “check for understanding,” it’s also important to sometimes move without having instruction before or cueing during a set. Sometimes you can measure learning by simply watching a movement happen, and debriefing after the activity is completed.

I’ve been experimenting with the concepts of the Silent Set, Ninja-autonomy, and intrinsic feedback in a potentially perplexing strategy. Here it is:

  1. Do 5 reps.
  2. Do 5 more reps, but do them better.
  3. What did you do better?

Let me note that I don’t use this strategy in classes with lots of new Ninjas, because they might not have the movement experience yet that allows veteran movers to quickly draw insights.

In classes with experienced movers though, I think it works pretty damn well. After the first 5 reps, I’ll see everyone dust off the cobwebs of the movement. For me, this is the first “Silent Set” and sets a movement baseline for a particular exercise.

The prompt to “Do it better” is vague enough that it puts the ownership of improvement right in front of the mover, and during the second set, I do my best to search for any perceptible changes in movement quality or experience.

The most important part of this process is the question: “What did you do better?”

The feedback to this question is always fantastic. Movers are able to reinforce their own thought process for improving their movement in real-time. And, because our classes at MFF have up to 15 Ninjas, each of us has a chance to learn from the others, so we’re really crowd-sourcing these cues and tips in a way that helps everyone get better, together.

Let’s talk action steps, shall we?

If you’re working out by yourself, you can literally apply this on your own after any given set. Simply ask yourself the question, “What can I do better?” It’s a self-coaching strategy to drive awareness and competency and should work throughout your warm-up and lighter work sets.

If you’re a coach who’s working with an individual client, ask them to provide the feedback to themselves. In a group setting, it should be an open conversation, so that each person is participating in both the learning and teaching processes.

Remember what Nick said, that ”If a client requires your presence to perform the movement effectively, you have failed.”

The role of a coach is not to tell their client what to do, but to teach their client how to do it in their absence. It’s giving someone a fish versus teaching someone how to fish, and our goal is teaching people how to fish.

Okay, that’s a wrap for this article. If you’ve got thoughts or questions you want to share, leave a comment and let me know. If you’d like to watch the companion episode of IGTV, you can click HERE.

One Reply to “How I’m Helping Ninjas Develop Autonomy”

  1. Great post coach. When you tell a client to “do it better’ I’m assuming they know what they’e doing in the first place? I think this works with intermediate and advanced clients but probably not the beginner.

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