Video feedback training, once the province of the pros, is now helping weekend athletes and serious amateurs improve their short radius turns, backhand volleys, aerobics routines . . . and their videomaking.

The first time we realized the tremendous value of video for training – to help people improve a skill – was when we played back our first skiing videos to friends (our willing targets.)

“Wow, I didn’t know I looked like that!”

“What a crouch! Maybe I’d feel more relaxed if I stood up straighter over my skis.”


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Some were a little put off by seeing themselves look less like Jean Claude Killy than they hoped. Some saw something in their skiing they wanted to change. Others decided to take a few more lessons. But everyone benefited from the video feedback.

Its value isn’t restricted to sports. Salespeople can brush up on their presentations. Performers can use it for rehearsal. Speakers can study their pacing and vocal quality. Anyone can observe their own body language. The opportunities to see oneself through the camera’s lens are nearly limitless.

The Third Eye

Research has consistently shown that we learn 80 to 90 percent of our information visually. With video feedback, the old adage “seeing is believing” has never been more true.

Instant replay can be much more than just an exciting rerun of a touchdown, a hole-in-one, or a racer’s finish. Video replays of a sports performance, sales presentation, speaking style, or even your own personal behavior provide feedback more revealing than that from any other training tool.

What other learning aid could show you in slow motion the details of your activity that are invisible in real time? How else could you watch yourself again and again while you improve your performance?

Of course, there is as much fun and challenge behind the camera as in front. We’ve not only become better skiers by watching ourselves ski, we’ve also learned some techniques for shooting feedback videos that enhance their value as a training tool for any activity.

Before you jump into your first training session, keep in mind that videomakers who use their equipment for feedback purposes have a very powerful tool at their command.

Compared to other self-improvement techniques, feedback through video is extremely personal, so you must learn to use it carefully. Personal video feedback shows people what they are doing, and even who they are, rather intimately. Remember that egos are involved, so be as kind with your camera as you can.

Close Encounters

For your training footage to serve its purpose, you should show subjects as close up as possible while still framing all the action. Framing only a skier’s head may get you some pretty dramatic facial expressions, but will do nothing to help the skier change his or her body position or pole plant.

For most sports, our rule of thumb is to zoom in as close as possible but always show the athlete’s full body. Leave enough room around the edges so quick and unexpected moves won’t have your target fleeing the frame.

Use a tripod, monopod, or camera rack whenever you can. Shaky pictures not only show poor camera technique, they can reduce the effectiveness of your feedback program. Of course, you’ll find that some sports are difficult to tape with a pod.

Experience has taught us that we can get better skiing footage when we do the camera holding, not the pod. The circumstance leans in our favor; a video camera is enough extra gear to haul up and down mountains!

If you can’t use a tripod, practice holding your camera in hand to get as steady as you can. Lean against something, kneel down, hold your breath – do whatever you can to help you shoot with as little shake as possible.

Multiple Mirrors

Shoot your subjects from as many different angles as possible.

Skiers, for example, learn much more from seeing themselves ski forward, past, and away from the camera than just say, head on. We try to tape several shots of the target skier from every possible camera angle, both for comparison and to be sure we have an adequate sample of the skier’s performance.

A low shot or two, looking up at the subject, and some shots from above give unusual perspective that can be very informative for the viewer. The rule here is to give your subject as many different views of themselves as possible. The more they see, the more they will learn.

It also helps to tape your subject from a natural viewpoint. In other words, show how this person would look to someone watching the activity under normal circumstances.

People usually look at a skier’s full body, so frame your skiing friends from head to toe. However, if you are producing a feedback tape for your friend’s rock band, shoot closeups on faces, hands, and instruments to show those parts of the action that are both interesting and customarily looked at by an audience.

We use this “natural viewpoint” strategy for many non-athletic performers such as musicians, actors, and public speakers. The trick is to let your camera’s eye focus on what you would normally look at if you were not watching through your viewfinder. What intrigues you as an observer will intrigue your subject.

So zoom in on the rock drummer’s hands behind the cymbals, and show the singer’s facial expressions up close. Zero in on those features of the performance that you think would interest a coach or a trainer. Chances are you’ll be recording the parts of the performance that will most help your target get better at what he or she is doing.

Plan for Playback

The big advantage of video-and the payoff for your subjects-comes with the instant replay.

or most activities, the more instantaneous the replay, the more effective the feedback-and the better the training. What the video communicates can be related to the subject’s recall of the actual activity while it’s still fresh in mind.

Just as important as the “sooner is better” rule is the “now do it again” principle. For the greatest training benefit, see to it that your subject can perform his or her activity again immediately after watching the video feedback.

With ski race training, we’ve even shown racers their previous run while riding up a chairlift with them readying for another. The impact of instant feedback coupled with immediate “do it again” opportunities is usually apparent in subsequent footage.

There’s no reason why you and your friends can’t use this powerful training tool just like the top amateur and professional athletes do.

Anything Worse Than the First?

Few videomakers haven’t encountered the occasional adverse reactions from people who are seeing themselves in action for the first time. Especially vulnerable are people who are rehearsing or learning a new skill. We don’t always look the way we expect.

Our self-perceptions may not always be accurate, and when they’re off, especially about some activity we hold dear, the jolt of being forced to realize that we don’t all ski like Killy or dance like Nureyev can be shocking to our egos.

We’ve found that the best thing to do when our friends want to destroy their feedback tape is to show it to them again-right away. An interesting thing happens. They like what they see much more each time; they find the feedback more and more useful. They also tend to see that which went unnoticed with earlier screenings.

This repeat-viewing phenomenon has occurred often enough in our use of training videos to qualify as another “principle of video training.”

So don’t be discouraged if an occasional participant in one of your training videos isn’t thrilled with his or her performance on first viewing. Unlike most videos, feedback tapes get more interesting and more useful with each viewing.

Multipurpose Productions

We’ve never erased any of our ski training videos, our friends haven’t either. That convinces us that the videos we’ve been calling training tapes have a long shelf life. Apparently, they have value well beyond their use as a training tool.

After every ounce of feedback has been extracted from repeated viewings, our friends continue to enjoy their skiing tapes just for the fun of watching themselves having a good time on the mountains.

And since we usually throw in a little human interested footage with every feedback tape-shots of getting to the slopes, gearing up, enjoying the apres ski scene-our friends save their training tapes for old time’s sake.

You can learn from them, you can be entertained by them, and you can include them in your family video album. Bet you never thought learning could be so much fun.

Dick Jones, a research psychologist, and Margaret Horn own and operate CMA Video Productions in Bend, OR. They are ski videographers for the Bob Beattie Summer Race Camps.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.