Is your Feedback process False and Failing?

Is your Feedback process False and Failing?


We all need feedback to improve. As coaches, there is one area that I feel a lot of coaches are not consistent enough in – providing feedback to the athlete or parent that is honest, regardless if it’s nice or not.

In the coaching industry, they speak about the 5 to 1 ratio of giving positive feedback to negative, when dealing with athletes or kids.

Personally, I go with about a 3:1 ratio. Not because I’m a ‘less positive’ coach, but because we need to be honest, realistic and give the right kind of feedback that improves the athlete. Not feedback that keeps the parents happy.

I have been privileged to coach and work in different parts of the world, including places such as Russia, South Africa, Serbia, Australia and of course where I am based and live now, the United States.

During these times, I have been able to learn and witness the different styles in teaching methods of coaches and how they communicate to their athletes and kids.

One thing that stands out about the Eastern European style of coaching is that they are direct, honest and sometimes brutal in their assessments. I can tell you that here, in the United states or even the UK, that kind of coaching style wouldn’t be accepted by many.

In the United States, it’s the opposite. If you are not a ‘positive’ coach, then you won’t last in many academies and clubs. The culture here is more about complimenting than criticizing.

Where do I stand? Somewhere in between, but leaning more towards brutal honesty brought across in the right manner.

Personally, I don’t like to use the word ‘criticize’, I prefer using the term ‘information’. I believe that proper coaching is about providing the positives and then giving the right information.

When I share feedback with an athlete, it usually centers a round these 3 things:

  1. The timing of it.
  2. Feedback based on the facts with proof.
  3. Feedback that is honest (nice or not).

I am not only lying to the athlete if I am not giving them the information and feedback they need, worse, I am lying to myself.

In my opinion, there is nothing more detrimental than seeing a coach or parent tell a kid they had a great in a game, when in fact they didn’t. That’s false feedback.

Now, I completely understand the importance of building confidence in the athlete, but that athlete needs to know what is honestly helping his or her progress, and what isn’t.

Constantly shouting “Good job” when the fact of the matter, is that it’s wasn’t a good job doesn’t help and this kind of feedback fails in the long term.

It simply sends a false message to the athlete or child, because after a while they don’t know when they actually have done something really well or not. They begin to become skeptical of your praise.

The most important kind of feedback is honest feedback. Realistic and straight feedback that helps grow and improve that athlete or child. We need to debvelop the growth mindset in those we coach, not just the athlete, but the parent too.

You don’t improve with criticism, but rather you improve with the right kind of information.

This is kind of feedback is what I call ‘flattering feedback’ which only hurts the learning and development process, more than it helps.

Kids need confidence (like all of us), but that can be shown in other ways like us showing them what they did do well and giving them examples.

It gets back to this: Did your athlete or child give their best effort? Did they show the traits of a great player (not skills wise), but character wise – that’s what counts most.

What we need is constructive, honest and well-timed feedback delivered in a positive manner.

Remember that effective communication is 80% how it is delivered or presented and 20% the actual message said.

One commonality of the best athletes I’ve worked with is that they all handle feedback and criticism (information) well. In most cases, their upbringing mirrors this quality from the way their parents and teachers have offered it.

False feedback fails. Rather be brutally honest, but in a nice way.