The Sweetest Sound

Coaching Feedback, Part II

According to Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, the “sweetest and most important sound in any language” to someone is their own name. The scope of Carnegie’s point goes beyond simply remembering names (a valuable coaching attribute). He goes on to note that a person’s name is what makes them unique; it sets them apart from others. When a coach addresses an individual within a group setting, that athlete has an instant upgrade in status. Another adage from Carnegie is that we all have an innate drive to be important. What better way to let athletes know you recognize their uniqueness, than by taking a few moments to deliver individual feedback as if they were the only athlete you were training that day?

Most of my coaching has been in team or small group settings, so I know the tendency to deliver group instruction and feedback when the training session is moving along. While there is some value in group feedback, there must be an element of individual attention if you are to gain trust, rapport, and accelerate the learning rate of your athletes. If you watch a group of athletes perform a set of 10 yard acceleration runs, jog back to the start line to get ready for the next set; and all you say is “Nice job guys. Remember to lean forward and drive back.”, then you missed a prime opportunity to deliver individual feedback. My coaching goal is to give individual feedback to a different athlete every rep/set. I don’t always hit that goal, but there’s an intentional effort to dish out way more individual feedback than group feedback.

Individual feedback does have some stipulations. In many cases, definitely with children and adolescents, individual feedback in front of the group should be praise rather than correction. I wouldn’t want to scrutinize technique of a 12 year old for the rest of the group to hear. Even when accompanied with praise, it will most always be perceived as a direct shot to their competency. In turn, negatively affecting self-confidence amongst their peers. Instead look to highlight what they’re doing well; “Jessica, I love the how aggressive you’re driving your foot back. That is the best acceleration run I have seen all day!” Specific, individual, and will probably make Jessica’s day. That said, always be aware of individual personalities. Even when praise based, some athletes (any age) aren’t comfortable with being singled out. Those cases call for individual praise to be delivered quietly and off to the side.

Quiet and off to the side is also a smart approach when delivering corrective feedback to individuals. Although mature athletes are sometimes comfortable with receiving constructive information in front of others, most will not be.

So whether it is praise, correction, in front of the group, or done more discreetly; aim to deliver SPECIFIC and INDIVIDUAL feedback.

– Coach Hall

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