Implicit Instructional styles….. Who knows what they are?


What is implicit learning?

Implicit learning is the ability for your athlete to learn how to complete a particular skill without knowing any of the technical elements behind it or thinking too much about it.

Implicit learning is said to reduce the likelihood of an athlete choking under pressure.

How can we implement implicit learning?

Below I will describe 5 ways in which we can promote implicit learning within our athletes with some examples.

Analogy learning!

Many great athletes have stated they use analogies to perform certain skills; all that is meant by this is a “biomechanical metaphor”.

YOU MUST use a term for the movement that is recognisable to the athlete, two great examples are “reaching into the cookie jar on the top shelf” for a basketball free throw and also “draw a right angle triangle” for a table tennis top spin.

Unfortunately there is no BIG BOOK OF ANALOGIES so it’s your chance to get creative.


Error-less learning!

This is a simple method that promotes self-confidence as well working on a skill. All your athlete is required to do is complete the desired skill from a close range and slowly increase distance away from it.

There is opportunity for error but they should start close enough that errors are few and far between.

An amazing example would be having two young rugby players pass the ball to each other across 2 or 3m, once they have complete a sufficient time/reps increase the distance to 4/5m and so on. 


Random Practice!

This is exactly what it says, practicing skills in a random fashion. The belief is that the short term memory will not be able to cope too well with lots of information and so “forget” the technical cues of the skill.

Once you go back to the skill though you will most likely find they can still competently do it but don’t know how.



I’m not talking technical cues; you give them only snippets of information without overloading them. Young athletes will find it extremely hard to retain lots of cues. 1 or 2 is ideal. 

You could relate this one very closely with the analogy approach.



This is a favourite amongst researchers, the idea is to have them perform a skill while thinking and repeating another task. Usually within research they have them either say random numbers every 2 seconds, count down from 99 in 3’s or up from 40 in 4’s. This however can be very boring and your athletes may not enjoy doing this very often.

An approach that may be affective is to play some music and have them sing it out loud back to you. This will not only distract them from thinking about the task but they will most likely enjoy it.

dual task

What to remember when coaching!

–          Try to give them as little technical information as possible.

–          Analogies work but MUST be relevant.

–          Every athlete will progress at different rates and enjoy different styles

–          Be as creative as possible and HAVE FUN.