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Essential Feedback

Communication Requires a Clear Exchange of Facts, Ideas, and Concepts
     Feedback is a value tool to assess:

  • If the transfer of knowledge has occurred
  • The amount of knowledge retained in long term memory
  • The clarity of the information transferred

     For a communication between two or more individuals to be considered a success, the learner must be able to correctly recall the information and be able to fully implement the knowledge to solve problems. Developing physical skills involve both the technical concepts and the performance of gross and fine motor skills.

     Adults generally need to understand the technical concepts and the need to do things a specific way. Children generally are not interested in explanations of how the body works and are mostly concerned with the "doing" as they view talking as time they could be an active participant.

     Both adults and children have a wide variation in the time they can spend on a task without losing focus.  It is an essential part of communicating that complexity must be simplified by being viewed as a task list. Such a list is a linear approach that starts at the beginning and systematically proceeds to a logical conclusion.  Ideally each lesson can introduce a different item on the list as a separate lesson complete with drills and practices designed to enhance the transfer of the information into long term permanent memory that will be the starting point for the next lesson.

     Having a prepared lesson plan that can be handed out is important as physical training usually does not lend itself to the athletes taking notes during the lesson. This can be logically extended to providing the lesson handout for the next class as a homework/reading assignment. A short PowerPoint presentation can be posted on a web site for students to download and review. 

     A white board available next to the training area can also be a valuable tool. Some coaches use an articulated model to demonstrate how the body parts will move. This should be followed by having an experienced athlete performing the task.  Ideally this demonstration should only demonstrate the correct way to perform the task.

     It is very helpful to have a Teachers Assistant (TA) monitoring each learner. After allowing the students to individually attempt the task several times it may be necessary to point out what can happen if the learner's body is unable to perform any part of the task. This becomes a problem solving skill that each individual needs to develop so that they do not continue to incorrectly perform the skill.

     Ideally a visual video replay can be used to allow the self analysis to occur. If that is not available, perhaps someone can perform the role of a TA to provide corrective feedback to the athlete. If a parent performs this role, take the time to provide them with the training to be a reliable observer and not validating poorly performed technique.

Validation is different from Providing Biased Support
     The secret of harnessing the power of effective feedback is through the use of a few simple techniques. It is vital that each athlete be provided with sincere and relevant information during private communications and/or to teams after after a practice session. Providing inspiration and helpful feedback by a coach after a poor performance in a practice or competition can become an important learning experience that may influence an athlete's future performances.

     Proving athletes with emotional and mental support can not change the real world's observations that quickly become apparent in competitive situations.  The rude awaking of anyone that they must correct major flaws in their technique may so discourage them that they quit rather than undergoing the unpleasant task of correcting problems that have become deeply ingrained in their long term automatic physical responses.

       There are three primary reasons for providing feedback to individual athletes and teams:

  • Motivation
  • Reinforce positive performances
  • Acknowledge improvement.
  • Assertion effectiveness of communication between teacher and learner

       Skaters generally know if they skated well for them compared to practice session. There may be a difference between how well they think they skated and the evaluation of the judges. In a test, the skater and coach will receive a copy of the judge's sheets. A coach can receive additional feedback from the judges at the test session or contact them later if time does not allow an opportunity when test schedules are very tight.  It is important for a coach to use the judge's comments to modify the emphasis on lessons to correct errors even if the test passed.

       Judges briefly see the skaters test performance from which they form perceptions they use to base their marks. While they point out problems and identify strengths/weaknesses, they can not be expected to provide detailed comments. Coaches can arrange for a judge to critique the skater for an in-depth analysis.

       At many open and all qualifying competitions, a videographer is available to tape skater performances. Coaches can view the DVDs after the competition to provide additional information about their performances. This combined with the summary sheets of IJS events helps the skater narrow the gap between what they perceived about what they did, what actually happened, but most importantly what they need to do to improve.

Introduction to Program Evaluation
        Anyone familiar with instructional design, constructs a course outline by stating objectives, including how the objectives will be accomplished, and the methods that will be used to evaluate how well the objectives have been met. Formal educational courses include prerequisite courses for enrolling in advanced courses. A sports program such follow a prerequisite list of skill requirements suitable for a specific sport:
  • Speed - 100 yard dash time trials
  • Strength - Specific weights for various weight training exercises
  • Stamina - Long distance time trials
  • Coordination - Balance and dexterity and specific skill development related to specific sport 
       It is very important to use a pre and post test evaluation to effectively measure improvement over an extended period of time.

       Feedback is highly desirable between athletes and coaches in team and individual sports. In many individual sports, a coach should always establish good rapport with parents through regular communications.  Coaches should not wait until a crisis occurs to communicate concerns to their athletes and parents.

       Coaches may think they are communicating the necessary information but, unless they have a way of involving the athletes in a dialog - there may be a serious communication gap. Too many coaches determine their effectiveness by how well the athletes perform under stress in competitive events. It is more work to attempt to evaluate how the athletes implement the coach's knowledge in practice sessions and especially those that simulate competitive events.

       However, the earlier a coach can identify physical and mental areas that require correction can prevent errors in technique from becoming converted into long term automatic muscle memory skills. There are different ways to evaluate how well the information has been communicated:
  • Motivate athletes - Provide positive and supportive statements soon after performances. A common technique used is positive-negative-positive.
  • Provide emotional support - This is not the time to attempt to communicate what actually occurred. Allow some time before attempting to bridge the gap between what a skater perceives he or she did, and a reality check as a coach or parent you attempt to provide!
  • Use videos - The use of video and instant real time and slow motion replay should be a part of every skater's training plan. This requires expensive equipment, setup time, and training on how to use the software/hardware so this is generally not used daily. Schedule this activity every few weeks to point out specific features that, as a coach, you want athletes to notice. 
This technology is helpful to point out both negative and positive features. Establish a video archive to demonstrate progress over several months. Schedule special off-ice time to review individual skater's progress. Don't over use as this tends to overwhelm younger skaters with too much information to process. When used judiciously, video analysis keeps a skater focused on the relevant tasks that need urgent and long term attention.
  • Positive reinforcement - Skaters, like most athletes, respond better to positive comments.
  • Negative reinforcement and/or punishment - Such techniques are usually ineffective with most athletes. Far too many coaches still use this strategy as a carryover from how they were taught.
  • Intermittent reinforcement - Each skater learns and processes information independently. Coaches should not provide assistance on every practice session to avoid skater's dependence on coaching.
  • Instructional techniques - Stress the "how to" rather than "how not to do" something.
  • Critiquing performances - Analysis of strengths and weakness of a specific skating element.
  • Timing critiquing performances too frequently or infrequently. Early in learning, provide more information; later, when athletes acquire greater skill, provide it less frequently.
  • Develop Problem Solving Skills - Teach the concepts so skaters learn to analyze the problem themselves rather than always being provided with an answer.
  • Emphasize why mastering basic skills is necessary - Describe exactly how to identify cues to identifying critical errors and offer precise on how to correct them. As each error is corrected, transition to the next level with the appropriate cues.
  • Have skater describe the positive and negative aspects of their performances - Establishing this type of communication is a fundamental means of acquiring problem solving skills. Especially effective when skaters become teenagers and their perceptions differ from coaching directions and strategies.
  • Coaches should summarize each competitive season - Before starting a new competitive season, coaches should summarize the previous season with an assessment of which goals were met and which are still a work in progress,
Recommended Reading List:

Modifying Skater Behaviors

Principles of Sports Training

Developing Course Materials


What is Motivation    Sometimes a distinction is made between positive and negative motivation. Positive motivation is a response which includes enjoyment and optimism.

Motivation. Big, Small, Negative, Positive    Aug. 1, 2003. Motivations comes in different sizes. Success accumulates.

How Negative Motivation Can Help Us Overcome Problems    Jan 29, 2008.  So how can you use negative motivation to make a positive impact on your life?

Positive Motivation Versus Negative Motivation     Jul. 13, 2009.  The difference between negative and positive motivation is the difference between surviving and living.

Psychology of Selfishness: Positive vs. Negative motivation    Feb. 11, 2009. Take this opportunity to stop and think for a moment: Is the pursuit of such values in your life a result of positive or negative motivation.

Coaching Feedback - Coach and Athletic Director  Find articles on coaching feedback from coaches and Athletic Directors.

Athletic Feedback Form - Haverford College  HCAA: Varsity - Athletic Feedback Form. Improvement is an ongoing process. The Athletic Department Feedback Form is intended to be a fluid document.

Recruiting High School Athletes - Recruiting Feedback | NCSA Visit NCSA's recruiting section and find everything you need to know about recruiting high school athletes.

Written References:

1. Magill, R.A. (2001). Motor learning: Concepts and applications (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

2. Schmidt, R.A. & Wrisberg, C.A. (2000). Motor learning and performance: A problem-based learning approach (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

3. Wrisberg, C.A. (2007). Sport skill instruction for coaches. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

Program Development
Athlete Development
Skill Development
How We Learn
Stages of Learning
Parent-Teen Relationships
Youth Development
Stages of Skill Development
Stages of Figure Skating Skill Development
Long Term Athlete Development Framework
Techniques of Sports Skills
Principles of Motor Skill Mechanics
Newton's Laws of Motion
Athlete Training Principles
Being Successful in Sports
Age Appropriate Sports Training
Effect of Learning Environment
Essential Feedback

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The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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