Feedback in Athletic Coaching: Is Educating Coaches the Missing Link?
Researchers have identified several other feedback techniques as useful in coaching. Carol Dweck is a proponent of effort feedback. Effort feedback involves teaching individuals to attribute their failures or lack of success to low effort. This type of feedback also allows the coach to make an association between working hard and success. The result is often more effort. The connections being made in effort feedback can increase motivation, self-efficacy, and proficiency (Schunk, 2003).
“Spotlighting Strengths” or noticing athletes’ strengths that they or the team take for granted is an effective way to use feedback (Rancourt, 1995). Pointing out athletes strengths and giving them constructive feedback about how to build upon them and how to strengthen their strengths to become a better player is often useful for an athlete. Players may not be maximizing their strengths or focusing on the weaknesses. Promoting strengths also brings about positive emotions in your players which may “open us up to many new thoughts and behaviors” (Snyder & Lopez, 2007, p. 134). Athletes can become more creative and better problem solvers as they build upon their positive resources. Consistently giving positive feedback about players’ strengths can be constructive.
Giving concurrent augmented feedback has been shown to have a “powerful effect” on performance (Baudrey et al., 2006). Giving athletes feedback during practice or competition is giving them additional data that they are not receiving from their muscles. Augmented feedback is also known as extrinsic feedback because it involves information that is not received from the movement itself. It builds on intrinsic feedback which is the information the athlete receives from their muscles and joints while performing the movement in the sport (Sports Coach, 2009). It takes athletes time to adjust to receiving concurrent feedback, consequently coaches should not expect immediate results (Baudrey et al., 2006). There are two types of augmented feedback, knowledge of performance (KP) and knowledge of results (KR). KP entails feedback about form and technique. Feedback can come from the coach or from film. KR is feedback about results. This can include scores, times, and distances (Mononen et al., 2003). Coaches should reduce their use of KR feedback (Mononen et al., 2003). In increasing is of KP, this would be focusing on form and technique rather than on the results of games, races, or any type of results. This is especially true in motor learning. An exception to this rule is when the task is especially complex or the athlete is a novice. An athlete can be a novice in elite sport when the task or motor skill is new to them. In these cases KR should be employed (Mononen et al., 2003).
Athletes learn when others are receiving feedback. One of the best ways athletes learn is by watching others receive individual feedback (Mononen et al., 2003). The traditional time efficient approach to coaching of lecturing and producing a few demonstrations immediately following does not offer this opportunity. When an athlete observes a peer being individually instructed and then receives individual instruction there are two opportunities for learning.
Coaches are not the only instrument of feedback, the environment is also critical. The coach is often the one setting up this environment. Creating and using activities, drills, and games that are intrinsic in nature is important. Good learning experiences can give feedback. Many activities tell the athlete if they are meeting expectations without the use of excessive praise or berating. These activities require the athlete to think, involve their teammates, and desire feedback. The environment is important in that failure is not desirable but that it is safe to strive for success. If failure occurs athletes can learn from their failures (Tate, personal communication, June 17, 2009).
Not all athletes receive or perceive feedback the same. There have been observable differences among African-American (AA) and European-American (EA) athletes. Coaches should take ethnicity and cultural differences into account when giving feedback. Although not to the extent that they create a negative self-fulfilling prophesy. AA coaches tend to use praise, scold, and hustle more frequently than EA coaches. They do this more successfully as well. This may be a reaction to AA athletes being “significantly less responsive to the negative approach than their EA athletic counterparts. Finally, while EA athletes believed that coaches, by definition, deserved respect, the AA athletes believed that coaches need to earn respect” (Solomon, 1999). There is still a great deal of research that needs to be done in this area. Nonetheless, what can be understood by coaches is that ethnicity and culture must be taken into account when giving feedback. If a particular feedback style is not working with a certain team you can access it and change it to better fit the situation.
Having skills to model receiving feedback is essential. Coaches are frequently the recipients of feedback whether it is positively or negatively oriented. Coaches must model the types of feedback that they would like to see their athletes use toward each other and with their coaches. Feedback should always be taken sincerely and with a listening ear. A considerate response is necessary. After considering and responding the receiver should “obtain consensual validation” and finally, “check your internal experience” (Leszcz & Yalom, 2005, p. 223). A coach may check with their colleagues about particularly important feedback they received and also think about how this particular feedback makes them feel. Dwelling on critical feedback can commonly be upsetting and interfere with a coach’s performance. “Looking at you as an instrument” and viewing the feedback as critical of the instrument and not personal can be a healthy coping mechanism (Tate, personal communication, Tate 17, 2009).
Two explanations are critical in understanding the context of current feedback research. Ericcson’s Theory of Deliberate Practice, and his finding that 10,000 hours are necessary to gain expertise in a domain, explains why coaches cannot expect feedback to produce instant results (Gladwell, 2008). However, coaches can expect feedback to affect behavior (Mononen et al., 2003). Second, feedback theories in youth recreational sport are often reversed. Low-expectancy, recreational youth athletes are given greater amounts of technical instruction than high-expectancy athletes as they tend to play in leagues with equal playing time stipulations. In elite sport, there are no such rules and low-expectancy athletes do not have to play and can also be replaced by incoming freshman.
Coaching experience is not correlated to improvement in feedback style or quality (DiMarco et al., 1998). Therefore, for coaches to improve in their feedback to their athletes they must educate themselves in the theories and research and then apply it to their work. They must increase their perceptual awareness, model feedback effectively, and take race and culture into account. Perhaps, the athletic world can take a page from the business industry and begin to use peer coaching. Coaches receiving feedback from other coaches would benefit in awareness of their own perceptual inflexibilities, if they would allow colleagues to observe their practices and rank their players. Reduction of self-fulfilling prophecies would decrease dissatisfaction of low-expectancy athletes. Coaches could implement videotaping to better access their own feedback styles. Frequent assessment of athletes is an ongoing process; coaches should strive for excellence in their own feedback styles.
Rebekah Conway Roulier, Ed.M. is the General Manager of the Doc Wayne Athletic League, Inc. a 501 (c)(3) and is responsible for sports programs and training of coaches in current and future markets, the enhancement of the organization’s “do the good” (DtG) therapeutic curriculum and management of the monitoring and evaluation systems. She comes to Doc Wayne with an Ed.M. in Counseling with a Specialization in Sport Psychology and with extensive experience in coaching and work in youth services. Rebekah has a B.A. and Ed.M. from Boston University. In addition to her work at Doc Wayne, she has provided performance enhancement consultation to athletes, coaches and referees seeking “success” at a variety of levels.
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