Answering This One Question May Help You Be a Better Coach

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Giving feedback to athletes is an essential part of being a coach. And, while that feedback is critical to the development of athletes’ skill, what is even more important is how that feedback impacts children’s self-image, motivation and mindset.

It is a fine line between criticism and feedback that we tread upon as parents, coaches or teachers. It is our job to guide kids toward improving without demoralizing them or causing them to feel shame for making an error. That is a difficult enough task, then when we add in that there are times when these children act and behave, well, like children, it can make walking the line that much more difficult.

But before you say a word in frustration or even anger, answer this question: how would you want your boss to speak to you?

Not how would your boss speak, how you might expect them to speak or how you might believe you deserved to be spoken to, but how would you want them to speak to you?

Just like the employer-employee relationship, the coach-athlete relationship has a built in power imbalance.   Whenever such a power balance exists, it is incumbent on the one holding the power to be kinder and gentler in how they speak to the person with less power.

It boils down to respect.

No one wants to be called names, have their effort questioned or have ridicule heaped upon them. It feels awful to have someone who has power over us make us feel defective or less than simply because we failed to please them.  And, when that other person has authority over us, it feels downright terrifying.

Aim for feedback that is descriptive, corrective and prescriptive (“Your legs were apart because you didn’t squeeze your muscles hard enough. Give more effort to that detail next turn and tighten those muscles.”), instead of judgmental, accusatory and hyperbolic (“Your legs were apart because you aren’t trying. I don’t know why you even come to practice when you never try.”).

And, remember, how would you want your boss to speak to you?