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Fighting the Five Feedback Traps
by Brian McCormick, CSCS, PES: Performance Director, TrainforHoops.com

Feedback is an essential component of coaching and teaching. Experienced players must engage in deliberate practice to improve, and one element of deliberate practice is feedback. However, giving feedback to a player is an art, as a coach must balance his player's different needs.

According to Dr. Cheryl Coker of New Mexico State University, there are five "feedback traps:"

  1. More is not better.
  2. Offering feedback too quickly.
  3. Giving too much information.
  4. Interfering with automatic processing.
  5. Misdirecting attentional focus.
When I coach, I use three types of drills: Teaching, Training and Competition. One way these drills differ is the amount and type of feedback. Players' needs differ at various points in the learning and developmental process. In Teaching drills, I use a lot of instruction and correct players often. In Training drills, I use cue words to remind players of previous instructions and intersperse these cues into the drill without stopping the drill. In Competitive drills, I limit the instructions until after the conclusion of the drill and then address the performance.

A few years ago, I worked out two players. Damon was a college student deciding between starting his coaching career and trying out for a junior college team. Chase was a high school sophomore learning the game and growing into his body. I had worked with Damon while he was in high school, and I knew he had trained with a couple other guys who I respected. After the workout, I asked his opinion.

He said he liked everything, but he said that I had missed stuff. I had not corrected every one of Chase's mistakes. I listened. I explained that I saw the mistakes, but chose to ignore some. He said he preferred another trainer because he critiqued every mistake.

First, I explained that I ignored some mistakes because my focus was elsewhere. Mainly, we were working on Chase's shooting. When he traveled on his first step a couple times, I ignored the mistake. I did not want to change his focus. I wanted to limit Chase's thinking, not give him additional information to process. If I stopped a repetition and focused on the traveling, his focus would shift from shooting to his first step. At that moment, I was teaching him to shoot, so I focused on shooting.

Next, I ignored some mistakes on his shot. Part of developing a shooter is building confidence. When a young player hears a negative critique after every shot, he loses confidence. He questions his shot after every repetition. Plus, the more I talk, the less the player shoots. I choose my feedback carefully and balance the necessary explanations with the need for repetitions. If I explain every mistake, but he only shoots 15 times in an hour, there is little learning, as he remembers only words (maybe) and not the feel of the correct execution.

I also know that as an individual trainer, I will not be at his games and practices. Part of my job is to teach a player to provide his own feedback. If I speak immediately after every repetition, I take away his responsibility and he relies on me. I know that I am instructing too much when a player misses a shot and looks at me for an explanation or instruction. On the flip side, I know that I am teaching effectively when the player notices the mistake before I have a chance to say anything.

Finally, I ignored some mistakes because I want him to process the information. Teaching is not giving a player a grocery list of things to change on the next shot. Instead, I focus on the big issues and work to the smaller issues. Oftentimes, when the player fixes a big mistake, the small mistakes sort themselves out.

For instance, I once trained a young player who could not make a free throw even though he was otherwise a very good player. His mother had been to several other trainers and one suggested the player see an eye doctor! I watched the kid shoot and he was off-balance, even on a free throw. He did not know how to bend properly. He missed short on his shots, and his coaches yelled at him to bend his knees. However, he bent his knees to a great degree; the problem was that he bent his knees so far forward that he was completely off-balance. Telling him to bend his knees exacerbated the problem rather than fixing it.

Rather than focus on his shooting form, I focused entirely on the way he bent his knees. Basically, I taught him how to squat. For over a month, we worked on his shooting and I never addressed his upper body form. Until he could bend his knees and maintain balance, the rest of his shot was irrelevant. I wanted him focusing on bending properly; I did not want to divert his attention to his elbow on one shot, his wrist on another, and his eyes on another. By limiting the information to process, he could focus more on the biggest task (bending properly) and improve his shot gradually once the biggest problem was fixed.

As he improved his balance, his shot improved. Suddenly, he did not miss short because his balance affords the opportunity to shoot the ball high, rather than pushing the ball at the basket. His shot mechanics were not picture perfect, but they were not that bad, either. Once he established balance, we worked on finding a consistent set position and release point. By fixing the major problem, we were able to move forward and attack the smaller problems with a greater degree of success.

Coaching is not demonstrating one's knowledge or mastery of a subject. Effective coaching requires eliciting a performance from another person. While feedback is essential for a player, the timing, accuracy and amount of feedback determines its effectiveness. To ensure feedback effectiveness, avoid the five feedback traps.

McCormick is the Performance Director for TrainforHoops.com. His books, including Blitz Basketball, are available through www.lulu.com/brianmccormick.

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