Part 10 – Using feedback
Jeff Mitchell – Community Coach Advisor – Sport Auckland / GACU
This is the tenth article in a series of 13 on developing your coaching skills. For the full list of articles in the series see the articles page.
In the last issue of Taking charge of your coach development we looked at how observing other coaches can improve your own coaching. You can also learn a lot by reversing roles and having another coach provide feedback on your coaching. In this article we will look at who can provide you with feedback, how to get this feedback, and what to do with it.
What is feedback?
Feedback is information that you receive about your coaching. Feedback can be either internal (feedback you identify by yourself) or external (feedback provided from other people). Examples of internal feedback include reflecting on your coaching, measuring your objectives, and watching video footage of yourself coaching. External feedback could be information provided from other coaches or a mentor, suggestions from parents, or players’ opinions gathered from feedback forms. In this article we will focus on external sources of feedback.
What is the value of feedback?
Feedback is used to raise your self-awareness, allowing you to identify what you need to work on. The more self-aware you are, the more capable you are of being in control of your development. Getting feedback from other people will provide you with alternative views, and also help to reinforce some of the views you already hold.
Feedback on your coaching can help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to complete a more thorough profile of your coaching practice. The more information you have regarding your coaching, the better the position you are in for making decisions regarding your coach development. A good way to understand the role of feedback in coach development is through the Johari Window.
The Johari Window
The Johari Window is a useful way of understanding how you can develop your coaching skills. It looks at what you know about your coaching and what other people know about it. The goal of the Johari Window is to increase your self-awareness, allowing you to identify areas of your coaching that you wish to improve. There are four parts to the window, which are shown in Figure 1:
- Open: What you and others know about you and your coaching practice.
- Hidden: Aspects of your coaching that other people are unaware of.
- Blind: Aspects of your coaching that you are unaware of but that others know.
- Potential: Areas of your coaching that no one is currently aware of.
Using each window to improve your development
Each of these windows provides different opportunities for coach development. The open window could be explored through Communities of Practice to identify what you can learn from your coaching and what you should continue to do. Honest discussions with a mentor can help you to build on your weaknesses by examining aspects in the hidden window. The blind window is best addressed through getting feedback: raising your awareness through video observations and by asking for feedback from other people. And the window of potential can be used as a base for planning the next stage of your Coach Development Plan, once you have addressed your current weaknesses.
You can increase the size of the open window by reducing the size of the blind and hidden windows. Other people can only give you feedback on the areas that are known to them – the open and blind windows. They cannot provide feedback on areas that are kept hidden from them, so you want to work on shrinking the hidden window. This requires you to discuss your coaching with other coaches, and to do so in an honest way. For example, other coaches may not be aware that you do not feel confident in your ability to plan sessions. If you keep this to yourself, they will be unable to offer you advice that could improve your planning. Reducing the size of your hidden window will make it easier for other people to help you to address your weaknesses.
To reduce the size of the blind window you need people to inform you of the areas you are unaware of. They do this by providing you with feedback on your coaching. With this increased self-awareness you are able to identify areas to work on and then get underway with improving your coaching.
The potential window contains areas that you and others are unaware of. These could be areas that you do not currently know how well you do in. For instance, if you have never paid attention to how well you really listen to your athletes, this could be an area in your potential window (as often other people will not know just how closely you are listening either). They could also be areas that you know nothing about. For example, you may have no idea what Teaching Games for Understanding is or how to use it, and this may also be unknown to the coaches you interact with. In this case this is an area of potential for you to develop.
Once you become aware of the existence of an area, you are able to then develop it to help you to improve your coaching. This could be through reflection, paying attention to the area, practicing it, or getting feedback on it. As you become aware of how well you perform in the area you will move it into either the open or the hidden window, shrinking your blind window and becoming a better coach.
By seeking feedback and developing areas of your coaching you are able to change the size of the windows. This reflects your greater level of self-awareness and the greater shared understanding you have with your fellow coaches. After a period of time your window might now look like Figure 2.
Here the coach has increased their self-awareness through reflection and receiving feedback. Through conversations with other coaches they have also increased what those coaches know about them, reducing the hidden window. As a result the open area is much larger, and they are in a better position to continue to improve their coaching.
Who should you get feedback from?
The source of the feedback is very important. It is always a good idea to get feedback from a range of people as this will provide you with a variety of perspectives. It will also help you to identify if the feedback is accurate: if several people are giving you the same feedback, it is more likely that it is correct. Three groups that you should look to receive feedback from are other coaches, your players and their parents.
You will definitely want to get feedback from other coaches. They will understand coaching and your context, putting them in the best position to provide quality feedback. Don’t be tempted to limit yourself to your own sport; you can also get quality feedback from coaches in other sports. They will be able to provide alternative ways of looking at the situations that you face, and can still provide valuable feedback on the art of coaching.
Athlete-centred coaching is about your players – they are who you coach for, and they are on the receiving end of your coaching. You should regularly seek their feedback on how you coach. They may not know the theory behind coaching, but they will know how they respond to what you do. Understanding how you come across to your players will increase your self-awareness. You could ask them for their views on the timing of your activities or sessions, how you teach skills, your use of Teaching Games for Understanding, or how well they understand your instructions.
Parents are another group that you should look to get feedback from. They will no doubt have their opinions; find out what they are and decide which are worth taking action on. Asking your players’ parents for their feedback is a good way to bring them into the environment, and the open communication channels will result in much easier management of the team. You will want to start by asking those parents that you trust, and that you have a good relationship with. When you are comfortable with the value of the feedback you receive from them you could then ask some of the other parents for their feedback.
After you have coached for a while you will come to realise that everyone has an opinion on your coaching. In order to use this feedback to further your development you face two challenges: how to get the feedback and how to use it. Often people will not provide the feedback directly to you, and people’s opinions aren’t always reliable or relevant. So you need a process for obtaining, sifting through and then applying relevant feedback on your coaching.
How do you get feedback?
The best way to get feedback is to ask for it. You want to avoid getting feedback second hand, so the best process is to ask people directly. You could ask for another person to give you general feedback on your coaching, or you could ask them to give you feedback on a specific area. When deciding on the area to receive feedback on, think about the areas you are working on in your plan, and the areas that are in your “blind” window. Some possible areas you could ask for feedback on include:
- Your use of questions
- Your use of demonstrations
- The clarity of your instructions
- Your posture or body language
- The quality of your activities
- The sequencing of your session
- Your use of coaching points.
There are several ways that you could ask someone to provide you with this feedback:
- Asking them informally, when you are having a conversation with them;
- Asking them to observe one of your sessions and then provide you with feedback on the area;
- Showing them a video of you coaching and asking for specific feedback.
To get feedback from your players you could provide them with a feedback form to complete. You could do the same with their parents. Another option is to ask them for feedback as part of an open forum, such as a team or parents’ meeting. Or, you could get the feedback informally from your players, such as by asking them at the end of a session for one thing they liked and one thing they did not like.
Once you have received feedback the next question is how do you use it? Having a clear process for using feedback will allow you to get the most out of it while also ensuring that the feedback you are using is relevant.
A good process to follow to make the most of the feedback that you receive contains five steps:
1. Listen to the feedback
The first step is to listen to the feedback that you are given. You want to really understand what they are trying to tell you. Ask them questions to clarify what they are saying, and make sure that you have understood them correctly. You will need to keep an open mind; don’t get defensive or look to argue with what they say. Note down the feedback, acknowledge what they have told you, and thank them for providing you with it.
2. Assess the feedback
After receiving the feedback, you need to determine if it is accurate and relevant. Not everything that people tell you is necessarily correct. You should compare their feedback to your own assessment of the area. This is where video footage can be really useful. Do you agree with the feedback, and is it fair? If it is regarding a “blind” area of your coaching then you may want to get feedback on the same area from a couple of other people to help you to decide.
Once you have determined that the feedback is accurate, you then need to assess its relevance. Will developing this area improve your coaching effectiveness? Does it apply to all of your coaching, or is the feedback only relevant to the specific session in which it was observed? If it is relevant, is it also important? Is it an area worth developing, or are you happy with it as it is?
A final consideration when you are assessing the feedback that you have received is whether it is something that you can change. If it is something that you have very little control over, then just being aware of it is probably enough. For example, if the feedback is that you haven’t played the sport at a high enough level, or that you are too young or too old, there probably won’t be much you can do about it. In this case the feedback isn’t something that you can action, so just move on.
If you have decided that the feedback is valid and worth taking action on, you need to spend some time reflecting on what the feedback is actually telling you. This means looking deeper at the feedback and what it means for your coaching. It will help you to understand the feedback better and to then identify how you can use it. Some questions that you could ask yourself to guide your reflection include:
- What is the impact of this feedback on the effectiveness of your coaching?
- What do you need to change?
- How does this fit into your Coach Development Plan?
- Have you received this feedback before? Have you noticed it yourself?
- What opportunities does this feedback provide for you to grow?
Writing your thoughts down in a reflective journal is a good way of processing the feedback. If you receive similar feedback in the future, you will have some notes to refer back to. It can also show you how your coaching has changed as you have gained experience.
4. Set some goals to improve on the area
While feedback is useful for raising your awareness (reducing the size of your “blind” window), it will not help you much if you do not do anything about it. If it is an important area, or one that will benefit your development, then you should set some goals to improve in it. You should try to incorporate these goals into your Coach Development Plan. You will then be actively working to take action on the feedback that you have received. After you have worked on the area for a while, look to receive further feedback on it, to see if you have improved.
5. Pay attention to the area in future sessions
Sometimes you may decide that some feedback you receive is not important enough to set a goal around; after all, you do not want to be working on too many goals at once. This doesn’t mean to say that you ignore the feedback. If it is an area that you are not currently aware of, your first step will be to pay attention to it during your coaching. This could be by being conscious of it when you next deliver, or by videoing one of your sessions and then reviewing it to look at the area.
If you decide it is an area worth improving, you should make an effort to use it better when you are coaching. This could be through research, practice, observation of other coaches using it, or through reflecting on your coaching sessions. Once an area has been identified for you through feedback, make an effort to pay attention to it in your future sessions. It is a good idea to seek feedback on the same area again in six months’ time, to determine if you have made progress.
While feedback is a great tool for improving your coach development, you do need to be aware of some potential pitfalls. Here we will discuss three of these and what you can do to avoid them.
Often the feedback that you get from other people is based on their opinions, and opinions aren’t always correct. What someone views as being poor coaching may be viewed as good by others. The knowledge, experience level and motivations of the person providing you with feedback will all influence the accuracy of the feedback they provide. Some ways to avoid inaccurate feedback include:
- Having people provide you with data or specific feedback on your coaching, rather than just voicing their opinion
- Having your coaching videoed so that you can assess it for yourself and compare it to the feedback you receive
- Asking for feedback from people that understand coaching and the coaching process
- Getting feedback from a range of people who you trust
- Developing your self-awareness and also your understanding of effective coaching
- Reflecting on feedback before taking action on it.
Negative reactions to feedback
People often get defensive when criticised and fail to take on board what they have been told. If you are upset by some of the feedback you receive, you may not listen closely to what is being said. This could mean that you will miss out on valuable feedback. If you try to defend yourself against the feedback, or refuse to acknowledge it, the person is unlikely to provide you with further feedback in the future.
When receiving feedback it is important to remain open and to listen closely. If you find yourself reacting negatively to feedback that you receive, try some of the following:
- Take a deep breath and focus on what the person is saying
- Recognise that they are providing the feedback to help you to improve
- Don’t argue with the feedback; ask questions to clarify and repeat the feedback to check you have understood it correctly
- Ask for advice on how you could improve this area
- Thank them for providing the feedback and then later reflect on it to decide if it is valid.
Blindly following the feedback provided
It is important that you take responsibility for your own development. While it is important to listen to the feedback that people provide you, you still need to decide for yourself if it is something that you need to work on. Just because someone tells you that you could do better in a certain area does not mean that you should drop everything else to address it. You need to decide what to work on and in what order, based on your priorities. This should be guided by your coaching philosophy, and your Coach Development Plan should set a clear direction for how you will develop.
Feedback should be part of your coach development process; it shouldn’t be the sole component. You can do the following to make sure that you do not blindly follow all of the feedback provided to you:
- Always assess the feedback in light of your own understanding and your development priorities
- Try to develop your own awareness of an area before you ask for feedback on it. Do this by reflecting on the area, observing video footage of your coaching, and researching the topic.
- Take into consideration the knowledge and motives of the person providing you with feedback
- Question them to make sure you fully understand the feedback before deciding to take action on it.
Increasing the size of your open window improves your self-awareness, giving you greater control over how you approach your coach development. Receiving and acting on feedback from others is an important step in raising your self-awareness. Once you have increased the open window, by interacting with other coaches and reflecting on your practice, you can then start to address the potential window. Here you look at what you can do to take your coaching to the next level.
Communities of Practice have been mentioned as a way that you can use the open window to further your understanding of the coaching process. These require you to be open about your coaching and to share your experiences with other coaches. In the next issue we will turn our attention to these Communities of Practice.