Many different types of strategies must be used in coaching to help athletes improve. Coaches must provide accurate and meaningful feedback to athletes with actionable solutions.
Seeing the problem is not usually the issue with coaching, the problem lies in finding the solution. For reoccurring issues, the coach should try several ways to explain the fault and various ways to correct the problem. Explaining the technical problem and finding the solution is one of the biggest challenges in coaching. The coach and athlete must have successful communication to solve the problem.
Repeat or Paraphrase
If an athlete can repeat or paraphrase your coaching cues during practice, it demonstrates good listening skills and comprehension. Try asking kindly “what did you hear me say” or “what do you think I mean”. Expand as needed after the athlete answers the question.
Athlete Requested Feedback
Coaches provide various feedback at their discretion but if the athlete request feedback, this is the best time to give meaningful information. The athlete that requests attention wants to get better. ‘Hey coach, can you film this one’, suggests the athlete wants feedback is very engaging.
Athlete requested feedback is very motivating to the coach since it shows how engaged the athlete is during the learning process.
When the athlete has an active role with feedback, the information is more meaningful since the athlete has control in the decision making. Athletes that request feedback after an attempt will take greater ownership in performance (Chiviacowsky & Wulf, 2013).
Delayed Feedback Methods
Athletes often want immediate feedback, however delaying feedback allows the athlete to process the movement. Provide delayed extrinsic feedback, only share information after every few attempts and summarize the movement patterns.
Effective coaching information given after each attempt with a pause of 3-5 seconds between the performance is another productive delayed feedback strategy.
Fix the Cause
Focusing on the cause of the technical fault and not the effects of the fault will improve problem solving for both the coach and athlete. Start at the beginning of a complex skill to seek out the error until the problem is found.
For example, if a discus thrower is landing with the upper body open in the power position, the coach should first check to make sure the left arm is inside the knee as the discus thrower moves from the entry into the middle of the circle. If the left arm is opening up too early during the entry, the result will be landing with the upper body open in the power position. This specificity is required for all sports in which a fault is consistently seen. The best coaching practice is to fix the problem in the entry rather than coaching the result of the technical issue.
When to Provide Feedback
Give your athletes coaching cues shortly after an attempt and let them process the information before the next attempt. Do not provide coaching tips immediately before executing a skill. At the time of execution, the athlete should have mentally prepared for the upcoming attempt, additional information can disrupt the athlete’s focus.
Have one technical focus during practice and competition. Use one phrase or cue to keep the athlete focused. Most athletes have many technical faults, but they can only be fixed one at a time. Select one technical issue and work over and over until that fault is corrected, only then move on to the next. One technical correction can take a few attempts or a few thousand, coaches and athletes must be patient when making technical changes. Focusing on one technical issue avoids overwhelming the athlete and promotes skill mastery.
Fixing one fault during the early stages of a complex skill will likely correct other problems that occur later in the technique.
Use Similar Cues and Be Positive
In competition, it is time for coaches to listen if the athlete wants to talk through what is happening. Coaches should provide feedback emphasizing the same familiar coaching cues from the most recent training sessions. And as always use positive reinforcement and encouragement, show confidence in your athletes to execute.
Negative Feedback with Action Steps
When providing negative feedback, add substance to the statement with actionable steps including the why and how of the solution. A common method in coaching is to provide information with a negative evaluation (technical error), followed by a correction and finishing with a positive comment or motivational gesture.
For example, in the discus throw, the coach says, ‘Your right foot was slow, try to turn the heel out and grind your foot into the ground, then your hips will move faster, lets go’. This information provides a negative aspect of the technique to correct and solutions to fix the problem using extrinsic feedback.
If and Then
Use ‘if and then scenarios’ with external (outside the body) focus coaching feedback. For example, the coach can inform his 100 meter sprinter, ‘if you stay down longer as you drive out of the blocks, then you can accelerate faster’.
When training for a major competition, provide frequent technical extrinsic feedback in the beginning of the week. Later in the week, focus on positive reinforcement, encouragement and competition rehearsal with less frequent technical extrinsic feedback.
During competitions, the most appropriate feedback is concise, well-timed and accurate information. Short and direct messages are most useful, an explanation longer than 10-20 seconds will not be effective.