Give the gift of feedback

written by Erica Quam

Feedback...can be a slippery slope! It can build you up, tear you down, and is sometimes hard to hear. Yet, it's necessary to learn, grow, and tap into our full potential. Because of our own experience with feedback, we can sometimes struggle to give it to someone else - at least in a way that they can hear it. Here are a few ideas to make your feedback more effective.

Feedback is a gift. When you can package it up - like a gift - and give it with the intention of helping the other person, then it will most likely be received in that same way.

When someone gives you feedback - just like when you receive a gift - an appropriate response is to simply say, thank you.

There are three parts to feedback:

  1. Content
  2. Tone
  3. Non-verbal cues

These three pieces should be congruent so that the message is clear and effective.

  • THE CONTENT: What do you want to communicate? 

What specific behavior should be changed or improved? Talk about what or how something was done. Keeping things specific makes feedback more powerful. 

Share information, your opinion, or your observations. This helps to keep judgement and criticism out of it as you are sharing your own personal experience.

  • THE TONE: How can you communicate it so the other person can take it in? 

Ideally, use a tone that is encouraging, confident, informative, supportive and patient. 

  • THE NON-VERBAL CUES: What else is going into my message?

Use body language and facial expressions that are consistent with the tone you are using. Do your best to stay open and positive.

Two powerful questions to answer before giving feedback:

What did they do well and WHY?

When you can zoom in on what they did well and then talk about why it was good, it's like hitting the repeat button. They get to two positives in a row - which opens the door for something constructive.

What can they do better and HOW?

Next, be specific about what they can do better and a suggestion of how they can improve. Putting these two things together automatically shifts the focus past the mistake and gets them moving forward.

If you want to get better at giving feedback, take a few moments to write down the answers to these questions before you deliver it. This will help you to be more clear and confident in your message.

The timing of effective feedback

As time decreases and stress increases, messages can definitely get misconstrued. Talk to your athletes ahead of time about the appropriate time to both give and receive feedback. Feedback can happen in the moment or feedback will be given after some time and reflection. Both are valuable. And both are not always realistic.

Let your athletes know that there are moments - maybe in the midst of competition - where you will intend your tone to be positive, yet depending on what else is going on around you, it may come across to them differently. You have a lot of decisions to make and not a lot of time to make them in. It's up to your athletes to take the content in and choose the tone that would be most helpful for them. Teach them how to receive it.

So many times - during the heat of competition - I had athletes who would get overly sensitive and take things personally. Which is...understandable. How many times have you heard, "Coach yelled at me!" when in reality, coach was coaching you!

Teaching your athletes about feedback BEFORE things get stressful is beneficial. Then they can better understand the position you are in as a coach and the barriers that get in the way of them taking in this feedback.

Feedback is an important part of how coaches and athletes communicate. Just like anything, communication is a skill that can be practiced and improved upon.

Are there any other ways that you have made your feedback more effective for your athletes? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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