Teaching the Players - The Role of Feedback

Feedback is the basis of all learning. It doesn’t matter whether you are learning to play the guitar, speak French or play soccer, the ideology is the same. One executes an action and gets feedback. Simple as that! Or is it?

Sometimes a results can speak for itself. When an opponent scores a goal, players know something went wrong. In order to identify the reasons and problems, players usually get help from someone else. Someone who is more experienced or can see the bigger picture. In sports this person is usually the coach and sometimes a fellow athlete. But giving effective feedback isn’t that simple. It’s extremely important to know how and when to give feedback.

Research indicates that psychology plays a significant role in the performance of athletes¹. The relationship between coach and athlete is an important factor in performance; coaches who are familiar with the best feedback techniques will often find greater coaching success, thus, more accomplished athletes.

Every athlete, regardless of age, has a maximum potential. In other words, there is a limit to his/her sporting progress. A good coach’s job is to help athletes reach their full potential. The coach knows the most about the sport, but there is more to feedback than just reciting the rules of the game². The underlying method behind good athletic feedback is to weave practical advice about game play within positive reinforcement. For instance, consider the following:

The coaching feedback ought to start with positive reinforcement.
"Great game, Sam! I can really see all your hard work during practice coming out during your matches.” 

Then it’s time to weave in that practical game play advice. Here, you can continue to balance positive and negative aspects.
“I was really impressed by your defensive moves and attention to the opponent’s footwork. For the next game, I think a few areas of improvement are a firmer stance and keeping your eye on the ball. Would you agree?”

Asking for the athlete’s input keeps them take an active role in their own improvement. Always end coaching feedback on a positive note³.
“Sam, you really gave them a tough fight. You’re really on your way!”

Quality feedback heavily impacts the learning process of athletes, especially younger ones. The human brain never really stops developing responses to new stimuli. Conditioning is a very basic psychological concept whereby the brain learns a certain response to a given stimulus. In this case, the goal is for an athlete’s brain to respond to their coach’s feedback with good athletic performance. The feedback given should be specific, timely, motivational, genuine, and frequent. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being solely results-based, but be sure to praise effort as well.

It is useful to revise when it is a suitable time for feedback. During training, sometimes it is useful to pause the drill and go through what went wrong and play the situation again. Then players can immediately get the right engram. At times, you should finish the drill and analyze it with the players - what went well and where we need to improve. A good coach should participate players and activate their own thinking.

There are also situations where the coach can not pause the game and communicate with the players. During matches, it is hard to give real time feedback to players. And after a game, there are so many emotions going through coaches and players minds that it’s not the time and place for analytical thinking and feedback. Participants need to go through the situations and understand what happened. The problem is that there are not enough resources (time or personnel) to give personal feedback to the players after a game (for example at the next training session). This is a distorted situation because the most important learning points happen in the game. If we can’t get feedback from games, how can we get better?

The underlying principles of good coaching will likely never change, but in today’s digital age, the medium may shift. We have created a coaching platform (an application) which allows coaches to give feedback to players whenever and wherever. Coaches can give it to players as a voice, text, animation or a video message. Coaches and players don't have to be at a same place at a same time anymore. This, of course, is not intended to fully remove the face-to-face aspect of team sports, but to rather add a modern dimension that helps players to get and revisit feedback during downtime.

Markus Kauppinen
Captain of CoPlays

¹ http://www.sportpsychologytoday.com/sport-psychology-for-coaches/feedback-in-athletic-coaching-part-1/
² http://www.sports-training-adviser.com/coaching-feedback.html
³ http://athleteassessments.com/delivering-athlete-feedback/
⁴ http://www.allstarsportsacademynj.com/coaching-feedback-brain-food-athletes

Markus is a former professional volleyball player from the Finnish main national league. He is passionate about coaching and making good coaching easier.

Today he is working with CoPlays coaching platform. CoPlays supports four team sports: ice hockey, soccer, floorball and basketball.


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