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The Accuracy of What You Say

word n. A speech sound, or series of sounds, serving to communicate meaning

In your ski lessons, the majority of what you present to students is what you say - your words. Yes, you’ll demonstrate skiing and movements to your students - but you may use words to guide what they watch. Yes, you’ll have the students practice - but you’re likely to use words to tell them what to practice. You’ll give the students feedback on their performance - in words. Imagine giving a lesson in complete silence - wouldn’t that be a challenge? How you speak and the words you use create your lesson presentation. Thus, it’s critical to your lesson’s success to be accurate in what you say.

 PMTS Direct Parallel emphasizes teaching movements. Right now, let’s explore the difference in movements of your body that result from different words. First, take off your shoes and socks and stand up. Lighten or slightly lift one foot so that it just brushes the floor - use that foot and leg for the tasks. For each phrase, try to perform exactly what is written, and watch what happens with your body. Watch the body parts that move, and note which muscles are activated by your effort.

Phrase Resulting Movement Muscles Used
1. Tip your little toe
2. Tip your foot toward your little toe
3. Aim your knee to the outside

 I can make some observations as I perform each task.
1. My little toe twitches and moves slightly outward. The muscles I feel are on the outside of my foot.
2. My entire foot rolls onto its outside edge, lifting the arch edge away from the ground. My foot continues to point in its original direction as I tip the foot. My leg rotates externally, aiming my knee slightly to the outside. The muscles I feel performing the task run down the inside of my shin, into my foot.
3. My thigh rotates externally, aiming my knee to the outside. The shin rotates as well. My foot rolls slightly onto its outside edge. It changes "direction", pointing in the direction of my knee, no longer forward. The muscles I feel performing the task are on the outside of my thigh and hip.

These phrases produce significantly different outcomes. Yet instructors use all these phrases - in teaching, training, and accreditation - when they desire a certain outcome: that the student tip one ski onto its outside edge. If that’s the goal, how effective would each of the above phrases be in helping your students to perform the task?
1. Moving my little toe by itself would not be sufficient to roll my ski on edge.
2. Tipping my foot toward its little toe would roll my ski onto its outside edge.
3. Aiming my knee to the outside would make my ski point in a new direction, but probably wouldn’t roll it on edge.

You can see how your students’ performance of the task you have in mind is strongly affected by your words in prompting them.

Let’s now try a different movement task, again with different phrases. This time, see if you can find a willing volunteer - preferably a non-skier, or a skier who is not familiar with PMTS Direct Parallel. Without demonstrating at all, simply read each phrase to your volunteer, and have him or her perform what is being asked. Watch again and write your observations of the results of each phrase...
1. Put all your weight on your left foot
2. Lean on your left leg
3. Pick up your right foot
4. Balance on your left foot
5. Pull your right foot up toward your body

As an exercise, write down some tasks that you may have students perform in your lessons, such as tapping the tail of the ski, pulling the skis tails closer together, transferring balance from one foot to the other, or relaxing and flexing the downhill leg. See if you can write several phrases to describe each task - perhaps phrases that you use, or that you have heard other instructors use. If your volunteer is still willing, read the phrases and watch the performance. Note which phrase produces the best performance, and use these phrases the next time you teach. The more accurate the words you use with your students, the faster the students will learn and progress.