Boosting players’ muscle memory

Youth conditioning coach Stian Weideman explains why schools coaches need to break a skill into different parts.

Everyone has their own views on what SAQ (speed, agility and quickness) training is and how to improve it, but unfortunately this is one of the most important coaching skills coaches lack. Most rugby coaches believe that just doing your regular rugby specific training, like going through moves for a game, will be more than enough to improve the speed, agility and quickness of the player.

I can understand the thinking behind this as they obviously think that there is no better way to train for a sport other than training the skills needed for the specific sport.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is true. You see, sport and the movement that takes place while participating is a very complex skill and takes a lot more ‘fine tuning’ than just going through a couple of moves.

By breaking a skill down and teaching a player every part of a movement individually you tend to create a better approach to long?term athletic development and you will ultimately become a better rugby coach.

What do I mean by this?

Remember those nights before a test when you decided you better start learning now? You might do well in the test tomorrow, but what about two weeks down the line? Would you be able to pass the same test? I bet the answer is no because you have forgotten most of the stuff you’ve learnt.

The same principle applies in training. By showing a player a skill, breaking it into parts teaching it piece by piece and then putting it all back together (The whole-part-whole method) will
engrave the skill in the athletes’ muscle memory.

By teaching it this way it will become part of the players’ muscle memory and he would not have to think every time he performs the skill. This is the same when you walk, you don’t have to think every time you take a step because it’s part of your muscle memory.

When starting out with any type of skill training the skill should be taught in a ‘calm environment’ where the player don’t feel under pressure at all. Most people can’t work under pressure let a lone learn a new skill under pressure.

Once the skill is mastered in a calm environment the player should be placed under pressure and see if he can still perform the skill as crisply as under no pressure. Sport requires you to perform a variety of skills under pressure so mastering it in a calm environment is fundamental to mastering it under pressure.

If you are a youth rugby coach who generally works with younger children (ages 6-9) it’s best to let them explore for themselves but just guiding them a little bit in the right direction. Coaches tend to be too structured at a young age and that causes the child to loose interest and hinder their development. At this age the most important aspect is for the children to do any physical activity.

This is a great tip for parent coaches as they just love helping children, but they don’t have any formal education.

So next time you’re coaching a child try this method and give me some feedback.

– Contact Weideman at [email protected] or visit his website at