Cue it Up

Keep your eye on the ballHave you ever found yourself distracted while running a course? Maybe so distracted that you forgot where you were going or which handling manoeuvre you wanted to perform? Ya, me too. [hangs head in shame].

Well you can prevent that from happening by incorporating some performance cues into your training and performance routines.

Using performance cues are an important step any athlete can take to help ensure they stay focussed on the things that matter most for their best performance.

“What are performance cues?”, you ask. Well, let me tell you. Performance cues are brief phrases that communicate task critical information to you about your performance.

Have you ever been told “Keep your eye on the ball!”? Good advice – and a performance cue. If someone throws a ball at you, keep your eye on it or you may end up eating it for lunch. Repeating this phrase to themselves has kept many a little leaguer from snacking on a baseball.

In agility we often say “Keep your eye on your dog!” More great advice and again, a performance cue. Repeating this at key moments during your run will help you avoid distractions and prevent you from losing connection with your dog at those important points during the course.

I find I’m using a lot of performance cues with my children these days and it really helps them stay on task and pay attention to what matters.

tieshoes_woodleywonderworksWith Ryan, he’s just learning to tie his shoes so he gets to hear lots of “loop”, “wrap”, and “through”. It helps him learn both the order in which the steps for tying a shoelace go and what NOT to pay attention to. There is a lot of lace down there, don’t you know?

With Kenzie, we’re working on a lot of street safety stuff. She definitely likes to leap before looking or rather sprint through busy parking lots giggling “You can’t catch me!” So we have a couple of performance cues that we use to help Kenzie pay attention to her surroundings, particularly in parking lots. When I’m unbuckling her from her car seat I remind her “Eyes up. Head on a swivel.” Now at least she sees the cars while she’s sprinting away.

Adding performance cues to your repertoire is easy to do. Really it is.

First, come up with some critical cues that will help your performance. This is where a coach or close training partner can really help you out. Ask yourself, are there things I forget to do when I’m running my dog that I know are important?

Second, whittle down the cues to just a minimum of words to capture the gist of what you’re trying to do. If you can make it catchy, all the better. It’ll be easier to remember.

Third, write your concise (and witty?) performance cues down and explicitly define what action is associated with them. It should be very clear what each performance cue means. This is a key step that many coaches don’t do with their athletes. It can lead to miscommunication and confusion. You don’t want that. What does “Head on a swivel” mean to you?

Fourth and finally, practice, practice, practice. You can’t just whip out a new handling move without practicing it first and the same applies with performance cues. Expecting performance cues to be effective without using them in training is silly. So don’t. Also, use your performance cues in your visualizations too.

Have any performance cues you already use? Share them with us in the comments.



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  1. Susan
    5 years ago

    Since adrenaline can get the best of me (resulting in me ending up in an incorrect position), I tell myself “patience, patience” during walk thru’s on those parts of the courses where I need to be patient. I often hear this cue in my head in those spots where I practiced it — very helpful for me. But I think I need to expand my use of performance cues beyond just this one.

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