Different Strokes: Athlete Learning Styles

Different Strokes: Athlete Learning Styles

Like snowflakes, no two cheerleaders are alike. Though athletes may be a sea of energetic smiles out on the floor, off the mat is a dynamic mix of personalities—from social butterflies to wallflowers and from Type-A perfectionists to laid-back types. That diversity often translates to learning styles as well, a difference that is less obvious but critical to maximizing team performance and efficiency at practices.

New Zealand teacher Neal Fleming’s popular VAK model states that are three principal styles of absorbing new information: visual (learning by seeing), auditory (learning by hearing), and kinesthetic (learning by doing). Typically, most people fit primarily into one category that works best for them to retain information, though each style contributes to the overall learning process.

According to learning specialist and author Kevin Roberts, coaches should create a multi-sensory learning experience that can meet the needs of every team member. In the gym, this may mean teaching a new stunt by first explaining the sequence verbally, then showing a video of the stunt sequence or having another group demonstrate, and finally, letting the athletes test their grips and positions on the ground before building. It’s also important to acknowledge various emotional needs (like showing patience with someone who asks many questions) and to be sensitive to non-verbal cues that show an athletes’ receptivity to learning.

“Endeavor to understand the learning styles of each member of the group and hit all the styles in the presentation of a skill,” Roberts advises. “You can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.”

At Cheer Ltd.’s cheer camps and clinics, president Gwen Holtsclaw and her team put those principles into practice—in the literal sense. “The key isn’t as much in the teaching/presenting of the information as it is the repetition, illustration, and practical application,” says Holtsclaw. “Methods of reinforcing information can be diverse and create a much better result of every type of learning style.”

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