By Paul Philip, 2005.

After riding and teaching snowboarding for a number of years I have found that to truly teach the sport to a high level you must first understand the whole picture, from the equipment and how it works, through to your body and how you manipulate it to effect your board.

One aspect when teaching is the importance of developing an understanding of how people (your clients) think and how they individually respond to your input of information. We have all had those lessons that the client rapidly progresses from a beginner to making turns in an instant. There are a few things possibly going on here, you have found out their learning style and delivered the right input of information, getting a great result. Or maybe your student is just a ‘natural’ – perhaps a surfer or skater. On the other hand you may have a student who doesn’t respond to your input.

How people learn and master movement

The short term sensory storage (STSS) receives all sensory input from vision, hearing, inner-ear and pressure receptors. This information lasts for a fraction of a second.

The short term memory (STM) is the control systems work space. Matching about six pieces of receptor information at any one time to possible responses.

The long term memory (LTM) stores all learnt and mastered skills.

All people will bring with them a collection of motor skills and motor programmes (a group of motor skills linked together) stored in the LTM.

First the STSS receives all sensory information. The control system then selects relevant information of the rider’s exact location and movements and sends it to the STM which then retrieves the most appropriate action to respond with from the LTM and its store of past experiences.

For example when you fall backward the STSS picks up on the loss of balance and the STM selects the most appropriate response from the LTM you then react by putting your hands out to brace for an impact. This response was probably learned as a toddler learning to stand and walk.

The memory trace of a movement lasts in the STM for less than a minute but through repetition will begin to be stored in the LTM; “practice makes perfect”.

In practice

As you read this article your vision is the primary receptor and you’re probably not aware of the pressure in the soles of your feet. The same way as the beginner is often more aware of the scraping sound of approaching riders.

The control system will not always select the best receptor input from the STSS getting a poor response to a situation, that is where we come in to help match up an appropriate learnt motor skill or motor program with the new skill by focusing on the correct sensory input.

Find out a person’s past experiences and you can relate a similar known movement to the task being learnt. Take for instance a left-handed tennis player who snowboards regular, and you want to develop their lower-body steering. You could look at the familiar movements of a forehand and backhand stroke. Now focus attention on the feeling of pressure changing in the sole of the front foot as it rolls in and out while making the strokes, a similar pressure change occurs with foot steering.

Remember, finding out what your student knows will help you to teach them what you know.

Paul Phillip