Often coaches get sucked into giving feedback that is less than useful for improving performance; more a statement of the obvious. This photograph reminded me of a peice of “coaching” I had received as a youngster. Many, many years ago as a young 15 year old I made the long journey via bus and shank’s pony ( I walked) to get from my home in the North of the county to the city to attend a holiday coaching course at the county nets. I was a virtual beginner, but hooked on the game and was desperate to get as much help as I could to improve my batting. Eventually, it was my turn to bat and I was looking forward to getting feedback from the ‘veteran’ coach taking the session. After a few tentative, nervous shots I attempted to play a “cover drive”. I knew it was a cover drive as I had seen it in the coaching books I was devouring at the time. Unfortunately, the ball squirted out to mid-wicket off the inside edge…the coach was fairly vocal in his feedback, which came in the shape of a question; “where should that have gone?” he bellowed down the net (after removing the Woodbine form his mouth). I pointed to extra cover, to which he replied, “well, why didn’t you hit it there then?” I was slightly non-plussed but continued with my net, none the wiser why my attempted cover drive hadn’t worked. Interestingly, a couple of years later I was involved in a training day with the county and the same coach was watching from the side. In a ‘practice’ game I managed to hit a “perfect” cover drive off the young opening fast bowler (who later went onto a long and distinguished career with the county). Later (not very much later I hasten to add), after getting out, the coach came over to me and said “that cover drive was just like watching the great Reg Simpson”; there could be no greater compliment in his eyes! My delight at the comment was tainted by previous experiences with the coach, shame the improvement was nothing to do with your coaching I thought to myself.
So, what sort of feedback should coaches give? To improve performance feedback needs to be informational. A good way to achieve this is to make the feedback implicit in the task requirements, so the player can develop awareness of his or her own performance. For example, if the reason for my poor cover drive had been because I had not taken a big enough step forwards to the ball, the coach could have chalked a line on the floor and asked me to try and step beyond it when playing drives. Implicit feedback is very powerful and I have always thought practicing basketball shooting was so much fun because the feedback was instant; the ball either went in or it didn’t. Designing tasks where players can get instant feedback such as “did I bowl the ball through a target?” or “did I hit the ball between the cones?” is a far more effective way of providing information. Of course, if the player doesn’t succeed, the coach can then “work his or her magic” to facilitate improvement in performance.