F is for Feedback

        F is for Feedback.  Feedback is such a critical part of sports and life.  We give and receive feedback constantly, both verbally and nonverbally, and we constantly process the feedback given to us.  Coach just said I took a good swing.  My teacher wrote that I did a great job on my project.  That girl just smiled at me.  If you are a player, all three are examples of feedback you may get in your daily life.  As coaches, we constantly constantly give feedback.  We tell players what we see, what we think of what we see, and often times get frustrated by their inability to see what we see.  What we say, how we say it, when we say it, and why we say it are all important to consider.  Although we may be less aware of it, we are constantly getting feedback from our players as well.  Whether we do so purposefully or not has a great impact on what we do with the feedback we get.  There is really so much great information about giving and receiving feedback, but my goal for the blog today is to give you just a couple of things to consider that I hope will make the playing/coaching experience a little better for you.

        As someone who worked with hitters, I was guilty for several years of giving horrible feedback during practice.  "Good swing," I'd say when a player would hammer a line drive into the gap during a round of BP.  It was the same thing I'd get so annoyed with as a player.  "Good swing?  I know it was a good swing....I just hit a ball to the f*in wall."  Then I would pop a ball up.  Crickets.  "Was that a bad swing?" I would think to myself.  A couple of swings would go by, and I wouldn't hear my coach say anything.  "Were those bad swings?  He didn't say good so surely they were."  Before you know it, I thought my swing was screwed up in one round of BP.  Irrational thinking for sure.  Fast forward to my work with hitters, and again I was guilty of what I'd hated so dearly.  I was aware but a little unsure of how to go about changing.  This touches on something many coaches can probably relate to.  As young coaches, we are so often what we experienced as players.  Rather than really forcing ourselves to think about best practices, we do what we have learned through observation or experience.  That was challenged for me early on in my sport psychology degree program by a book called The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey.  The book talked about the danger of what Gallwey termed as judgments.  Any time we label something as good or bad we are judging.  The key, according to Gallwey, was to use observations instead.  Rather than good or bad, a swing was simply a series of movements with a clear result.  Like I said, the book challenged and ultimately changed my way of giving feedback.  I realized that saying "Good swing" every time a hitter struck a ball well in BP was basically useless and actually had the potential to do more harm than good.  Instead, I needed to be able to give specific feedback about what happened.  Still better yet, I needed to be able to talk with hitters about what they felt happened during a round.  This would force them to understand what was going on.  Then, they had a shot at the improvement they sought and at being self-aware.  I am not saying I was some great hitting guru by any means.  I do think I got better with my communication with players though and that they were better off  as a result.

        I feel very strongly about the concept of observing instead of judging.  It not only changed the way I coached, but it changed the way I taught and thought of students as well.  I'd been guilty early on of labeling kids as "good" or "bad" kids rather than observing behaviors independently and reacting accordingly.  This was extremely dangerous for multiple reasons.  First, it was incredibly high and mighty of me to think that I had the right to say a kid was a "bad kid" or not.  Second, it indirectly left me open to reacting way too emotionally and irrationally to behaviors.  That kid talked when I'm talking.  He is a rude, bad kid!  Teachers really think that way, and it's so irrational.  It's unfair to the kid and makes your life much more difficult than it needs to be.  Since I have challenged myself to judge less and observe more, my feedback with students has improved tremendously.  If a student misbehaves, we are able to have a rational discussion rather than anyone being put on the defensive.  I'm not saying it works all of the time, but again I think it has helped.

        As I have written before, one of the things I love most about sport psyc is the easy application to everyday life.  To be clear, this is really just the tip of what could be many icebergs when it comes to feedback.  I'll probably come back to the topic with multiple pieces later.  In the meantime, my hope is you were able to draw something from the mistakes and experiences I have had that will improve yours in the future.

F is For Feedback Song of the Day: Kenny Rogers- The Greatest
It's a great baseball song and a nice lesson on using self-awareness to change your plan!


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