Why “Whack-A-Mole” Cuing Doesn’t Work

December 20, 2022 by
Enjoying Morning Chalk Up? Access additional exclusive interviews, analyses, and stories with an Rx membership.

Cueing in Olympic Weightlifting – or any movement for that matter – should not be a game of whack-a-mole. You’ll find whack-a-mole at your local carnival or Dave & Busters. To play, there is a rubber club that you use to whack moles that pop up out of nine holes in the game board. The objective of the game is to whack as many of them on the head as you can to earn points. 

What happens when coaches give too many cues at once?

At first, they pop up slowly one at a time, and you can give each mole a good thump on the head, but as the round moves closer to ending, two and sometimes three pop up at a time! Near the end, the game is a blur of whackin’ moles, and none of the moles really get whacked well.

That is how I used to cue my athletes when I was a young coach. If an athlete was snatching and I saw three things in their lift that they could improve, I would inform the athlete of all those things that they needed to fix. That’s three moles popping up at once! That’s too many moles to smash well. You might get lucky sometimes, but most of the time, it’s a mess. After many years of coaching, I have begun the process of simplifying my cueing to focus on one mole at a time, and it has made a great deal of difference in my athlete’s rate of development and understanding.

Athlete new? Just one cue!

Currently, I teach my athletes to focus on one cue at a time and to execute that cue to the best of their ability. For most athletes who are brand new or in the initial learning stage of Olympic Weightlifting (1-3 months), they often have one or two major faults in their technique. My job as their coach is to make them conscious of how they are currently moving their body and the barbell, and show them how to make simple corrections to help them move towards better mechanics and technique. This process involves creating specific cues for my athletes to conceptualize and aim for when they visualize themselves lifting within their mind, and while performing their lifts in the physical world.

Explain Before You Cue

To prepare a single cue for use, I discuss the general concept with my athletes that we are targeting to improve (this could be keeping the bar close to the body or extending completely at the top of the snatch or clean pull before the turnover). 

Cues Should be Unique to the Athlete

Then I Individually work with each athlete on how to package the concept into a simple 1-3 word cue that makes clear sense to them. In a class of 15 athletes, they might all be focusing on similar concepts, but each of their cues are unique to them. It must be a cue that they can latch onto and practice. Once the concept is compressed into a cue, then the athlete can test out the cue to see how it feels for them.

What to fix first? 

The largest problem that you can isolate should be addressed first. It may take some time to convey the concept to the athlete, and then it might take further time to cultivate a specific cue that allows them to feel and understand the concept. This process is completely unique for each individual athlete, and the time that it takes any athlete to improve is unpredictable. One thing here is certain – once your athlete understands and begins to execute the cue with proficiency, you’ll see it in their eyes and you both get to share in the joy of the discovery. In my opinion, this is the most wonderful thing about coaching – sharing in my athlete’s discoveries!

So if you’re a whack-a-mole coach, or you try to push the same cues onto many athletes or an entire class, work to expand your language and cuing. This process begins by asking questions to get a better understanding of how your athletes are conceptualizing their technique. Often, they will say something that shows you exactly where they are with their understanding of the movement or concept, and then you can meet them there and help them take the next step in the learning process. This is just one of the many concepts developed in the Invictus University curriculum for coaches. Enrollment is now open and spots are limited – REGISTER NOW!

Get the Newsletter

For a daily digest of all things CrossFit. Community, Competitions, Athletes, Tips, Recipes, Deals and more.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.