Performance evaluations are found in all aspects of life. In school, students are graded on homework and exams. In the workplace, there are continuous performance reviews. But with sports, there aren’t any standards or metrics to be graded on, which has created a grey area on best practices and techniques on how to effectively provide constructive feedback to develop athletic skills.
Since the age of four, sports have played a tremendous role in my life. I’ll always remember those coaches that were able to effectively communicate feedback that resonated with me, whether it was at training, in a match, or a written evaluation. It’s a skillset that they practiced over and over to get the best out of me and my teammates both on and off the field.
After college ball ended and I began coaching, one of the first things I did was define my own communication and feedback methods using the techniques that helped me become a better athlete and person. This guide includes those tips in addition to an abundance of best practices from legendary coaches like John Wooden.
The Difference Between Feedback and Evaluations
While the goals of the two are the same, daily feedback and athlete evaluations are different, and bring different things to consider. Providing feedback is done all of the time at practice, in games, and in the locker room. Giving a more formal, detailed evaluation is usually done when the season ends or even before playoff runs. Effective evaluations will “grade” an athlete on a scale and provide a full list of criteria for them to improve upon.
Tips for Communicating Feedback
Understand the Timing
There is a time and place for everything. During the fourth quarter in a tight game, it’s probably not a good idea to dig into the negatives of their play but rather stay positive until after the game is over. If it’s important, try to provide feedback sooner rather than later, before that example fades in their mind. If they can’t remember it, they can’t learn from it.
Positive to Negative Ratios
John Wooden, one of the most successful coaches in all of sports, coached by 3:1 ratio. For every one piece of criticism he gave, he provided three pieces of positive instruction. As you coach, are you balancing the two? What’s your ratio?
One of the most popular philosophies of feedback is “sandwiching” the negatives in between the positives. When providing constructive criticism, let them know what they’re doing well, the meat on what they need to improve on, and one positive area to conclude the dialogue and soften the blow.
Tips for Evaluations
Determine a Grading Scale
Whether you’re evaluating the athlete’s ability out of 5, 10, or 100, choose a number that has a middle point that they can relate to. The middle point is usually defined as “satisfactory” or “average”. Choosing a scale without a middle point will make you have to choose below or above average for each topic point.
After you hand off the evaluation, understand you’re the one who is accountable for any questions or follow up. Make sure to include your email address and be prepared to offer additional details as to why an athlete received the scoring he/she did. Again, you’re doing this to help them improve their abilities, not to discourage them.
To read more tips and best practices on effective communication skills, download the guide below!