Good is the Enemy of Great

Coaching Feedback, Part I

“Good is the enemy of great” is the first line of Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great. Collins’ book uses this phrase to describe how some companies settle for good results and fail to make further progress towards becoming truly great. From a feedback perspective, when a coach overuses the word “good”, they are failing to deliver great feedback.

We are all guilty of it. Terms like “good”, “nice job”, “that’s a way”, “perfect” are meant to communicate praise and affirm an athlete’s performance or movement correction. The problem is that these terms are so generic that the athlete doesn’t actually receive valuable information from us. This is especially true when athletes are in the early phases of motor skill acquisition.

We know that the corrective feedback loop relies on an external source (coaches in this case) to deliver information that athletes can process internally and conceptually. In turn, motor skills are refined and performed correctly at high acquisition rates. So imagine an athlete, or group of athletes, learning and rehearsing their acceleration skill with 10 yards resisted sprints. And after the first rep or set, the coaching feedback they receive to process is “Good job guys”. From their point of view, “Good” doesn’t offer anything constructive that will help them know what to repeat or focus on during subsequent rehearsal. I have been an athlete in this scenario before, and I always thought to myself – “Good at what, Coach?” I wished that my coach would have told me what specifically I did well.

Instead of “Good job Nick”, it might be “Yes Nick!, that aggressive drive back is exactly what I am looking for! Keep it going!” Not only do I recognize Nick’s efforts and competency in front of his peers, but I also give him something specific to process and support his learning of acceleration mechanics. Specific feedback is always better than generic feedback.

This is the first Principle of Coaching Feedback. Be SPECIFIC.

Coach Hall

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