Improving Observation Skills

The strength and conditioning coaches from Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) – Ranald Joseph and Kelvin Chua conducted a great CCE (Continuing Coaching Education) workshop – Basics of Strength Training: Its Importance, Principles and Basic Movement Progressions last month. They were engaging and covered the Why, What and How-s of basic strength training. For NROC coaches who missed the session, keep a lookout for the next session in September!

This post isn’t about the content of their workshop though. It’s about what I’ve observed during the micro-coaching bits, specifically, when the participants got into small groups and took turns to play the role of coach to observe the basic squat and hinge movements of the athletes.

“How are you supposed to make accurate observations when you are performing the exercises in a circle with your athletes?”

Almost every coach got into a circle with the participants/athletes and performed the exercises together. There were only two coaches who did not do so. One simply walked around the circle offering praises, and the other one got into positions where he could actually observe if the athletes were performing the movements correctly.

Now, the ability to make proper observations is a “bread and butter” coaching skill, and is taught in almost any coaching program. Hence, I was surprised with the behavior of the coaches – how are you supposed to make accurate observations when you are performing the exercises in a circle with your athletes?

I had a quick word with Ranald and asked that he remind the coaches to get into a proper position to make observations for the next exercise and you know what? Nothing changed. This was somewhat disturbing since some of the coaches has more than a couple of decades of experience #coachingbetteryesterday.

I would like to give my fellow coaches the benefit of the doubt. It could be that they were among peers and in a different context, hence they may not be doing what they normally would. Who knows? It could even be mirror neurons or some sort of conformity virus at work.

Regardless, going back to basics strengthens our foundation and my intention for this post is really to remind us of the basics related to making good observations.

Basics of Observation and Analysis

Athletes rely on our feedback to improve their skills. The quality of feedback matters, and this is dependent on how well we can observe and analyze their performance

The following pointers will help coaches improve their ability to observe and to analyze.

Observation Skills


  1. Break the action down into phases

Most skills can be divided into three phases – Preparatory, Execution and Follow-through.

Phases Examples
Preparatory – the actions that readies the athlete for the force producing movement The backswing for golf or tennis, and the arm recovery movement in swimming.
Execution – the force producing movement or critical instant at the point of contact The moment of contact in a tennis serve between the ball and racquet, or the actual release of the shot put or javelin.
Follow-through – the body movements occurring after the execution phase. The high leg lift after kicking a goal in rugby, the path of the golf club after the ball is struck, or landing in gymnastics

As the coach’s technical proficiency improves, he or she will be able to identify key elements within each phase to observe.

  1. Observe several times from several directions

Generally, the observation should be from a position at right angles to the general direction of the athlete’s motion. However, observing the performance from multiple angles (e.g. side, front and back) is beneficial in giving the coach a number of different perspectives.

If the performance covers some distance or moves in different directions, observations should be from various points.

  1. Compare with your technical model

After several observations, the coach must make a comparison with what they have seen with the technical model, specifically, which part of the execution matches the model and what needs to be adjusted.

  1. Identify what is correct and what is incorrect

Some coaches make the mistake of only emphasizing on the corrections to be made. You would also want to reinforce the correct actions. This will also have implications on the athlete’s motivation and helps them focus on their progress rather than just corrections.

  1. Decide what action to take if any

Having made your observation and analysis, you may want to provide the athlete with additional demonstrations or specific feedback.

Coach Hansen


Thompson, P.J.L. (1991) Introduction to Coaching Theory, IAAF (2009)

Gym Sport NZ Coach Education Program – Skills Analysis and Coaching

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