When we talk about feedback, the majority of the conversation is about how to deliver it. But as we all know, a conversation is a two-way street. Arguably, how feedback is received is even more important than how it’s delivered. A great delivery can still be misconstrued by the receiver, but a great feedback receiver can interpret the intended information even from a very poor delivery. Thus, if we make an effort to help our athletes get better at receiving feedback, we give ourselves a much better chance of getting through to them in those critical moments. Here are some things that have helped me in this process:
Ask them what they like to be called: I try to do this as early as possible upon meeting new athletes to immediately demonstrate we’re starting from a place of respect. If my roster says Elizabeth, I ask if she prefers her full name. If she says she doesn’t care (which many of them do in the initial conversation), I insist that “it’s important to me, because I want to call you what you want to be called.” At that point they tell you their preferred name, but more importantly they know you care what their preferred name is. It’s an easy first step towards building trust, which is at the core of strong culture.
Teach them to assume the best intent: This may seem redundant if you’ve read my last few posts, but it’s absolutely critical. It starts with you demonstrating this value by assuming their best intent, which, if you’ve made it all the way to part 4, I think it’s safe to assume you’re already doing. The next part here is reframing the way they interpret feedback when you notice they’ve taken it in an unintended way. I usually jot a note on my practice plan to try to catch them for a quick 1 on 1 after the session. If I don’t feel good about the resolution, I’ll make another note and try to follow up before the start of the next session. The last piece I’ll leave you with here is being open to their feedback when they give it to you. If they didn’t like the way you delivered the feedback, even if it seems totally fine to you, be willing to adjust. Similar to asking them what they like to be called, it’s not really about the specific feedback, it’s about them knowing you care enough to make an adjustment for them.
Mediate disagreements between teammates: When conflict arises, it must be addressed. We want competition, we want intensity, and when we design sessions to stoke those flames, emotions often flare. There should be emotion in practice – it’s just our job as coaches to make sure that emotion fuels our team’s fight rather than breaks us apart. In practice, when teammates compete against each other, that can be a challenge. If an athlete loses composure in the moment you have to stop play and address it. But when buttons are pushed, and athletes are able to maintain composure, that needs to be applauded. I might make a comment as play flows, but I prefer to address it more deeply in the debrief. That’s the moment to remind all your athletes they’re teammates even when competing against each other. That sharp comments will fly during intense moments, and we must fall back to assuming the best intent of each other. We want to push the limits of intensity when competing in practice – it’s our job as coaches to make sure our athletes maintain their composure therein.
Thanks for seeing this series through to the end. Most important pieces here: make sure your athletes know you care about them, demonstrate consistently that you see their best intent, encourage/hold them accountable to do the same, and push your sessions to the most intense point where your athletes can still control their emotions.
Check back with us next week for new topics and discussions!