The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of Feedback: the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary ALSO defines Feedback as: a rumbling, whining, or whistling sound resulting from an amplified or broadcast signal (as music or speech) that has been returned as input and retransmitted.
Dear Coach, which one are you?
Walk around a practice or a tournament and you’ll hear coaches talking, shouting, cheering, moaning and giving feedback even when they don’t mean to. Watch a coach’s reaction to a missed serve late in a game; feedback. Watch a coach’s reaction to a call that goes their way at a pivotal match point; feedback.
The question is whether or not your feedback adds value to your athletes, to the culture of your gym, to the process and training you provide.
That’s a lot to remember, especially for newer coaches. Many will spout a continual fountain of things they heard as players, the first thing that pops into their head or even worse, verbal darts they may think are funny but can be sarcastic and damaging to their athletes.
So let’s try a simple checklist this time. Three things to filter before your feedback leaves your lips.
- Is it obvious?
- Is it positive?
- Does it help this person become a better volleyball player?
Obvious is a coaches goal line fumble and yet the one feedback miscue that happens more than any other. Listen at your tournament this weekend and see if any of these sound familiar: “Ladies, let’s get our serves in.” “Let’s get our passes up.” “Stay out of the net.” “Get the ball in!”
You’ll hear those hundreds of times this weekend and surprisingly, Coaches have already taught our athletes these things. Being obvious translates to ‘white noise’ and gives our athlete’s a reason not to tune their coach in; “a rumbling, whining, or whistling sound resulting from an amplified or broadcast signal…”
Positive can be a more difficult filter, especially when a team is playing badly. If you are a coach long enough, the phrase, ‘the wheels came off’ will at some point fall off your tongue; it’s volleyball, it’s random, it happens. Trying to find the positive is what a good coach does, and on occasion can sometimes turn the tide of a bad stretch.
The unfortunate flip side of that is what is heard too often. “Don’t miss your serve” for example. What’s the first thing the server is now thinking about? You guessed it! “Just get the ball in!” It’s not heard by the hitter as be crafty and make a shot, it’s heard as, “I have no faith in your swing so just don’t make a mistake.” “Can we just get a pass?” “Stop getting tooled!” “Who’s going to get that ball?” These are all going to be overheard at this weekend’s tournament, and next weekend’s and the next and the next. But being positive going forward, coaches have the ability to change!
How often do YOU, as a coach, get positive feedback? How does it feel? Your boss tells you that you did a great job this week. Your husband tells you dinner was amazing tonight. A parent comes out of the stands and tells you how much they appreciate their daughter’s improvement so far this season and thank you. It makes us feel GREAT. Why are we so slow to understand that and more importantly, why are we so slow to utilize the same with our athletes?
Finally, the one question that should be paramount; does it help this person become a better volleyball player? Looking at the feedback above, can you honestly say any of that will lead toward that goal? A good coach will forego the obvious; Instead of “get your serve in” they would say, “toss a little higher next serve.” “Give me a pass,” might become, “get your platform out sooner.” “Someone get that ball” becomes “you are the outside passer so you get the split on that serve.”
The list of great coaches just in our sport, have exceptional feedback as a common ground: Hugh McCutcheon, Carl McGown, John Speraw and maybe the best of them all, Marv Dunphy. It’s not a coincidence.
A small checklist can yield big results with your athletes and your team’s culture and training.