Feeding the yearning for learning - Some ideas for players feedback

This issue I want to talk about player feedback. A huge part of coaching, regardless of the level at which you coach, is facilitating feedback. Feedback is what allows players to learn, to grow their skills and decision-making and to progress through the ranks in pursuance of their dreams. Your ability to nurture the feedback process will play a critical role in determining how successful you are as a developer of players.

Those of you who have read my prognostications previously will understand that I strongly believe the best feedback is that which players gain for themselves. In other words, self-awareness is a critical precursor to learning. The model below illustrates what I mean.

Self-awareness >>>>Self-analysis>>>>Self-understanding>>>>>Self-improvement

So what can you do to facilitate self-awareness, self-analysis, self understanding and self-improvement in your players? In my view, most powerful coaching tool is questioning. My last article concerned the whole issue of questioning so I won't repeat the details of that here, suffice it to say that I more convinced that than ever that developing your ability as a questioner is the most powerful thing you can do in terms of growing your ability as a developer of players. Clearly video is also a powerful tool. The video doesn't tend to lie, shows exactly how things are and gives players and coaches wonderful feedback about performance.

What I want to focus on in this article is a tool called performance profiling. This has been around for a long time is a concept in mainstream psychology, but has now transferred to sport as a valuable tool for assisting the coach to nurture awareness and development in your players.

Performance Profiling has three major purposes:

Firstly, to aid in identifying an appropriate coaching intervention, secondly, to maximise the athlete's motivation and adherence to the program and thirdly to monitor any changes over time

Process

Performance Profiling comprises of four steps:

• Step 1 - Coach outlines the Performance Profiling process to the player
• Step 2 - The player identifies the characteristics of an elite athlete for his/her position
• Step 3 - Athlete rates each in terms of level of importance and self assessment
• Step 4 - Athlete and Coach analyse the results and agree a way forward, including prioritisation of performance aspects to work on.

An example of a performance profile for a back and a forward are shown. This is a performance profile sheet that I developed for an elite rugby coach a year or two ago and is included as an example. This performance profile sheet is simply arranged with performance factors on the left, a 1-10 scale on the right, and then a column indicating the level of priority to be assigned to the factor. The other performance profiling concept you can use is the wagon wheel, also shown on the page to the right. The concept of course is exactly the same, it’s just another way of showing it.

As a rugby coach, giving effective feedback to your players is extremely challenging. You may have 24 in your squad, you only have them twice a week for a couple of hours at a time and you are responsible for their technical, tactical, physical and mental development. It is small wonder that coaching is so challenging and that many of us tend to lose our hair as we grow older. Of course players love to get feedback, they love to hear about the things they've done well, the things they haven't done so well and of course what they need to do to put things right. If you're coaching the team on your own, this is a huge challenge and you really have to cut your cloth to fit your cap. That's to say you really do have limited opportunity to give in-depth feedback your players. That's just a fact of life. You're probably so busy organising logistics and getting players in the right place at the right time that you just don't have a lot of chance for individual feedback.

Using performance profiling offers you an effective tool for giving more effective feedback to your players. If you're coaching a youth team, get some Dads to watch a mini- unit each and give them a score sheet with players’ names and some simple aspects of play that they can score players on. For very young players it might be as simple as passing, catching, running, tackling and effort. For older players you may wish to use a more inclusive performance profile sheet such as those illustrated here, or sheets that you make up yourself. You will find that the players will love to receive the scores that they get on their performance profile sheets. I've vividly recall coaching my son's rugby team when he was about nine. He was playing in a very talented team that won all of their games by large margins. I found using a performance profile sheet, and it was as simple as the one described above, kept the boys focused on their individual performance rather than the score. This kept them motivated and focused on improving their performance. It's also a very powerful tool to use if you are coaching a team that is consistently getting beaten. You need to take the focus away from the score and onto performance and development.

Performance profiling can be made even more powerful by asking the players to rate their own performance as well as receiving the feedback given by the sheets that have been filled out by the coach (or assistants). In effect, asking players to fill out a performance profile (PP) sheet is really just another way of asking a question. Instead of asking the player “On a scale of one to ten how well it you think you performed today across the following areas?” , what you're doing is giving the player a piece of paper and asking him to answer those questions by filling in the PP sheet. What is really interesting is when you come to compare the score the player has given him or her self with the score given by the coaching staff. If there any clear discrepancies then obviously this is an area that needs to be discussed as the player’s perception of their performance is clearly at odds with the perception of the coach or coaches (or mothers/ fathers, depending on who has filled the PP sheets out).

Once you get the hang of the performance profile concept, you can use it in a wide range of situations. One example is using it to monitor how well the players are adhering to the values and attitudes that they agreed on at the start of the season. To use the performance profile for this, simply place the values that were agreed upon (e.g. honesty with self and others, punctuality, 100% commitment, discipline, team for self, leaving some sweat on the pitch) and place the 1 to 10 scale alongside each value. Split the players into groups and ask each group to report back how they would score the team for adherence to each value. You might then like to ask them that for any value for which they have scored less than nine, they might like to say what is going wrong, what options exist to get back on track and then to state exactly what they will do to put things right.

You can also use PP to track how well the management team and players are tracking in terms of sticking to the expectations each had of the other at the start of the season. If you don't do this, I would recommend that you do. Just as in a relationship between two people, each side needs to clearly understand the expectations of the other in the relationship. The coach and management staff ought to clearly outline what their expectations are of the players for the coming season. For example these might include punctuality, honesty and doing what you say you going to do. With regard to the players’ expectations of management, they may mention such things as - being on time, being organised, being creative and pertinent with trainings, walking the talk and having an open-door policy. Meeting of these expectations is a critical part of a successful season. Performance profiling can be used at any time of the season to ascertain how well these expectations are being met.

If management which to gain a clear indication of how well they are going in terms of meeting the players’ expectations, they can simply hand out a performance profile sheet which has a list of expectations with a 1 to 10 scale alongside it and ask players to score management across those key factors. Management can do the same with players. It is quick, easy to organise and provides extremely valuable information which can help with optimal team functioning. As I always say, if you understand the why of anything then the what, the when and the how much become quite straightforward.

If you understand that performance profiling is merely a simple to use method of establishing self-awareness, self-analysis, self understanding and self-improvement then you will be able to use it effectively to make a difference in your coaching.

All the best

Dave