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Why Feedback is Important to Athletic Progress

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What is the role of feedback? Why is it so important to an individual or team’s success?

Let me answer that by trying to paint a picture for you: You are 5 games into your season, but you guys haven’t won yet. The pieces are there, the talent is there but things just keep falling the wrong way. After the games, no one is talking to each other. You go home, go to bed, then the next week of practice starts. Your coaches are looking to the next week ahead instead of living in the past. Because of all of that, your team is doomed to recreate the exact same mistakes again. And again. And again. A team like this breeds a lot of resentment. But there’s one extremely simple solution to this problem and it’s feedback. 

So, what is feedback?

It starts with perception, but also understanding that regardless of your sport, it’s not just your perception; it’s a triangulation of all the aspects around you. It’s your teammates’ perceptions, it’s your coaches’ perceptions too. Taking all of that into account, feedback is the communication pathway that you have to absorb what is happening and respond effectively to compete at a high level.

Now an important thing to understand about feedback is that it carries a tone. There is constructive feedback, which is positive, and critical feedback, which can be condescending. The intention behind the feedback is just as important as the feedback itself.

It is a natural human response to protect our ego. We never want to be in the wrong place, or make a bad play, so receiving feedback can be very challenging at first. It may be hard to separate the message from the messenger. There may also be a fear of judgment from giving feedback at first. So practice is the best place to start. Much like anything else we do, confidence comes from repetition. 

So I challenge you to be willing to have the awkward conversations, and have them consistently for two reasons: 

  1. The more of those conversations that are had, the better we get at them and the easier it is for us to have them.
  2. It’s for the greater good of the team.

Consistent and respectful communication from neutrality tears down the walls that come up when the stakes are high. If you are constantly communicating with your teammates and/or your coaches, eventually there is an adaptation that happens. Communication is now the norm, or the “standard.” Once that happens, there is no longer a question mark on what the expectations are. It also allows for accountability, which is necessary for a team to be less about me and more about us. 

When it becomes about us, we become more focused on winning as a team instead of individual accomplishments. So you should be giving and receiving feedback all the time!

If there is an issue present, and either a coach, teammate, or you don’t say something, it’s showing that there isn’t any care about improvement. It’s allowing sub-optimal performance and being ok with mediocrity. As a coach that always wants the best for my athletes, I am perfectly fine with an athlete being a little bit angry with me briefly about being called out on something they are under-performing on. But like I mentioned previously, that is only once I know they are capable of separating me from the message. You may feel like a coach is picking on you sometimes, but listen closely to the message they are giving you. 

If a coach is giving quality feedback consistently, that means they see opportunities and potential for improvement. It may be hard because not every coach is great at it, but try to dig deeper into the feedback they give you. And if it is still hard to understand, communicate with them in a more private setting to show them you care about the feedback they give you. It is actually much more concerning if a coach isn’t giving feedback at all. That stunts personal growth and development as well as the team’s growth and development. 

And if we are talking about the team’s development, feedback needs to be flowing intersquad just as much, if not more. The quality of a team increases when this happens. This will speed up improvement immensely. As you improve together, you can start to develop game strategy from there. 

I don’t know if you have been on a team like the one I talked about before but it’s easy on a team like that to almost feel like you are playing “pick up ball” against other actual teams, and that rarely works out in your favor. In closing, feedback creates an unspoken chemistry between you, your teammates, and your coaching staff. That lesson transcends sports, and imparts important life lessons. For more information about how feedback can enhance your team’s dynamic, please feel free to reach out to me at athletes(at)peakhumanperformance.us and #LetsDoThisTogether.

About the Author

Rob Smaldino is the Athlete Program Director at Peak Human Performance. Shortly after receiving his Bachelor of Exercise Science degree from The Ohio State University and his Master of Exercise Physiology from University of Dayton, he earned his CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) and found Peak in the Fall of 2017. He has been a coach with Peak since then. In the Spring of 2021, he was approached to step into his Director role. 

He is a coach truly enamored with the success of any athlete he comes in contact with. He openly states that he is equal parts a coach and a fan of every one of his athletes. From training sessions, to mindset and preparation talks, to showing up to his athletes competitions, Rob is willing to go above and beyond for any athlete at any level of competition. If you want to gain more insight into what makes Coach Rob such a gravitating force, follow him at @robsmaldinophp

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