Traditionally in sport, we see the provision of feedback as a one-way activity. Coach speaks to athlete, presents video footage etc. This has led to most research trying to create various ‘types’ of feedback (e.g., corrective, autonomy supportive, general) or measure the volume of feedback.
Despite a lot of evidence that is suggestive of the types of feedback that might be used with an athlete, especially in motor learning, feedback has rarely been considered holistically. That is, the big picture of different performance relevant information offered to the athlete and takes account of all an athlete’s activities – not just skill acquisition. Yet, we know that feedback is one of the most important things a coach does and there has been very little critical consideration of the impact of feedback on the performer.
As a result, even less attention has been paid to the characteristics of the consumer of feedback. David Carless suggested the idea of feedback literacy, where the characteristics and capacities of the individual learner are critical to use feedback effectively. In essence, how the sense-making and self-regulatory capacity of the individual learner are supportive of learning/development.
This broader conceptualisation means that feedback is more than simple input-output, it is instead a two-way process where athletes use performance relevant information to promote development.
This is a lot more than academic wordsmithing, this is recognition that just because you have said or shown something to an athlete that they will use it appropriately. Instead, that they will go through a process of active sensemaking and consider the meaning/utility of what they receive.
In essence, rather than having the conversation that goes: “I told her!”, it suggests that athletes engage in an active process, setting the feedback offer against their pre-existing knowledge and beliefs. This means that athletes may reject, disregard or misunderstand your input.
For example, sitting down with an athlete to discuss a recent performance, you may intend to feedback the need for a technical change during a period of lesser competition. Yet, after a winning performance, lots of positive social media and parental input, the athlete might not perceive the same need as you. They might not understand why you are suggesting this and reject your advice.
What does this mean for the coach and athlete?
- This work reinforces the centrality of individual athlete experience to the coaching process – it is about what is going on for them, NOT just what you do/say/show
- Do not take for granted that feedback will be used in the way it was meant - take time to understand the athlete's perspective and check for their follow up behaviour
- Talent Development organisations, as part of a broader approach to the development of psycho-behavioural characteristics should consider the role of feedback literacy and spend significant time preparing performers to be ‘gourmet critical consumers’
This is part one of a blog that explains the key features of a recent paper that explored the feedback experience of developing athletes:
Author: Jamie Taylor, Senior Coach Developer at Grey Matters