Mental high performance skills for coaching: How to get maximum value from feedback– Tim Goodenough 24 April 2009
Tim Goodenough, co-author of “In the zone with South Africa’s sports heroes”
One of the core functions of a coach is to facilitate the learning of his or her players. Unfortunately teaching does not equal learning. A new equation for teaching that puts the responsibility back on the coach is this: Teaching is the improvement in expertise a player shows about cricket after I have worked with him.
One of the major tools to facilitate learning in players is real-time feedback. That is giving feedback to the player about something he did, immediately after he has done it, or as close to immediately as possible. Feedback is more than just a judgement, like “Good shot!”, or “Bad Ball!” Positive judgements can boost confidence and belief, but provide very little information about what needs to be replicated again, and negative judgements can sometimes do damage, instead of spur increased efforts.
Oftentimes if there are specifics given in feedback, it is the specifics about what went wrong. This can provide a valuable learning opportunity, however if this is not balanced with a majority of positive feedback, the players belief in himself and his relationship to his coach can be put under strain, “I never do anything right!” or “Coach doesn’t believe I can do it” are often comments heard from players who are coached by coaches who are negative feedback dominant. The other less obvious positive about positive feedback versus negative feedback, is that negative feedback would often be about something where a player has their own weakness, and positive feedback about their strengths. If you are positive feedback heavy, you will get a faster learning curve as it is quicker and more effective to develop strengths than weaknesses, and with the positiveness, then focusing on negative feedback becomes “stretch” goals, and not negatives.
In football Jamie Carragher has this to say about his manager at Liverpool “Rafa is always on your back some players can’t handle that. Me, I don’t like it but I’m the sort of person who responds. Does he actually think I’m any good? You’re always wanting to prove yourself. He hasn’t got much good to say about anyone, Rafa. . . even other managers.”
For me this is one of the major reasons why Liverpool have been so good in the last few years, but not good enough to win the premiership, and not great enough to get all the trophies they could have. That style works for certain players, but when you contrast it to what Alex Ferguson has done with Man Utd, it becomes obvious how Man Utd can sustain high performance for so long. Although it is interesting with the current premiership race now on, I believe Liverpool will falter at the last because, when the sustained pressure is on, and it is all on the line, you respond to how you have been conditioned. One manager (primarily) builds up, one strips down.
As players get older they are more and more equipped to deal with a greater degree of negative feedback – however if you have to balance it out, in general more specific positive feedback provides greater benefit then negative feedback.
With feedback the more specific details you can give the better and more effective the feedback. One of the most powerful tools to influence players, in terms of confidence and technique is to give them specific real-time feedback when things go right! Now they know what to replicate. “The speed of your front foot movement and the balance through the controlled shot was fantastic – keep it up!” This has the added benefit of the player feeling he has been “seen”, as you really need to watch closely to give that kind of feedback, and watch as your players learn.