Unscientific methods some sports coaches use (Part 1)

Sports coaches are often under pressure to get the best performance of their athletes and teams. With good intentions, they often turn to the latest psychological techniques and ideas; however, many of those are not well supported by scientific facts and evidences.

The following techniques are widely used by sports coaches despite having no robust evidence to back them up.

1. Learning styles

This is a widely belief, being promoted by sport governing bodies that athletes have their own preferred learning style. Learning styles assumes that people have an innate preference for how they are taught and trained, and it influences their learning. For instance, the theory states that some people will learn better by visual learning, others by auditory learning, and some by kinaesthetic learning.

According to this theory, one player might better learn how to serve in tennis by watching an actual person hit a serve, while others might better learn by listening to a description of how to do it. Others still may better learn by practicing.

However, there is no evidence that learning is improved via such methods compared with instruction that does not focus on the senses.

2. Neuro-linguistic programming

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) researchers claim that eye movements reveal thoughts. For instance, if a person is looking up, he or she is trying to visualise or recall something, but if a person looks down, he or she is thinking about feelings.

Coaches often use this information to identify what an athlete is thinking about and so help to alter those thoughts. If an athlete is emotional immediately before a competition begins – as revealed by eye movements – this could impact their performance. As such, the coach could ask the athlete to concentrate on tactics or specific thoughts related to the upcoming match to monitor the athlete’s eye movement.

NLP claims that the behaviour and thoughts can be modelled to assist other athletes enhance skills and coaches can use this model.