Who is Your (Informal) Feedback Giver?

confidence feedback improvement mindset performance Jan 07, 2020

My old high school football coach, the legendary Vic Kubu, used to say, “You either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement. Elite performers in all fields have coaches, but unless you are working one-on-one with a coach in your sport, chances are they use another trusted source to give them objective feedback on their performance. 

This is for two reasons. First, the main priority for a head coach is the TEAM, not necessarily any individual player. A head coach may realistically see only a portion of your performance during a particular game. He or she is not watching your every move. Second, it is unlikely that the athlete is able to accurately diagnose his or her own performance. Oftentimes, athletes are either their own worst critic, and unable to see any “good” in their performance, or they are not critical enough and unwilling or unable to get out of their comfort zone. Both extremes are bad for an athlete’s long-term potential.

However, those athletes looking to get better often have someone who they trust to give them consistent, honest, and objective feedback on their performance. This is often a parent, spouse, or friend who is focused on the individual’s performance while watching the entire game. 

That person for me was my Dad. I could always count on him to give me honest feedback about the way I played. He often saw things I didn’t, both good and bad, and I knew his intent was always focused on making me a better player. He and I could separate his role as father from the role of “honest broker” that I needed to get better. 

Who is That Person For You?

Who is that person for you? Who is that person who is going to give you honest feedback about your performance, regardless of whether your team won or lost. Regardless of what your stats were. Regardless of whether you were the best player on the field that day. Who is that person who you trust to give it to you straight? 

This is especially important for those playing team sports. I was blessed to have high school coaches who pushed me to be the best possible player I could be, but for high-caliber players on a lot of teams, the situation may be different. After all, there may be less incentive for coaches to push their star players, especially when their time and effort might be better allocated towards improving less-talented players. But having someone there to give consistent, open, and honest feedback was an absolute game-changer for me, as it is for a lot of athletes. 

For Players

If you’re a player and don’t have a person like this in your life, find one. But make sure the person is a) someone you can trust,  b) someone who has your best interests at heart, and c) someone who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to your sport. If you are lucky enough to find somebody like this to give you feedback, accept it when it is given to you. Don’t fight it. Remember, feedback is a gift and if you’ve found the right person, they have your best interests in mind. 

For Parents

If you are a parent who’s interested in being that trusted source to provide consistent, honest, and objective feedback for their child in sports, I think a couple of prerequisites have to be in order. 

1. Does your child know that you love them unconditionally? If they don’t or if they think that your affection and love is dependent on how they performed in the game or at practice, you’re in trouble. It won’t work. Your child will blur his or her identity with their sport, and they will likely resent you when their career is over. 

2. Do you know what you’re talking about? We all know parents who want to live vicariously through their children, oftentimes because they were not the highly skilled athlete they always wanted to be. Is the advice and feedback that you’re giving consistent with what the coach wants? In other words, are you giving feedback to your child to shoot more when you know the coach is preaching more passing and team play? If you’re unsure about whether you know what you’re talking about when it comes to playing/coaching that sport, or you have an inkling of an idea that you’re feedback and advice may run counter to what the coach is putting out, then best to keep your advice to yourself. Also, know when your child is playing at a level that is beyond your pay-grade, so-to-speak. In other words, it is quite possible that your child is playing at a level that is beyond your level of expertise. “Know when to say when.”

3. If you’ve met prerequisites #1 and #2, then you should ask your athlete how they’d like to receive that feedback and when. Some players want feedback right after the game when their performance is fresh. Others want some time to digest their performance before receiving feedback. Pick the wrong time, especially when giving critical feedback, and that feedback will fall upon deaf ears or you’ll have a blowout argument. Just like students, some athletes are auditory learners while others are visual. If your athlete is a visual learner, talking to them until they’re blue in the face is useless, but show them a video of what you’re talking about, or a diagram of a particular play, and they’ll get it.

4. Finally, focus on the process vs. outcomes. Know your athlete’s goals, know their plan on how to achieve them, and stick to it. If the athlete has an effective process and a growth mindset, the results will eventually follow. Don’t get caught up in the scoreboard, the stats, and the inevitable highs and lows. As Trevor Moawad likes to say, help your athlete “stay neutral.”

You either get better or you get worse, but how will you know for sure?

Find the right person who can give you consistent, open, and honest feedback - and you will.

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