COPING WITH ADVERSITY: What’s the Best Way to Give Feedback to Young Athletes (…and their Parents)?

One of the basic fundamentals that all coaches embrace – whether at the youth, travel, or HS level – is that a coach has to give feedback to one’s athletes.

Problem is, it’s rare for a coach to be trained at any level on how to do this. In short, it’s just sort of “assumed” that coaches know how to do this. But anyone who has had a youngster play for a bunch of different coaches know that giving feedback is rarely standard or universal in nature.

A generation ago, coaches were considerably more gruff and tough in their demeanor. That doesn’t mean they were mean or sarcastic; it just means that it was hard to please them. I can recall vividly how difficult it was to get my HS football coaches to get them to smile just a little bit on a well-executed block or tackle. I remember how I could live for a full week on cloud nine if I ever got a pat on the back from the head football coach for a job well done.

But of course, times change. These days, it seems the tables have turned dramatically, almost 180 degrees, to the point where every coach lavishes constant praise on the athletes, and does so regardless of youth, travel, or HS level. Every kid, it seems, is “making tremendous progress” or “is just doing great” or “I couldn’t be happier with their skill level.”

But of course, if every kid on the team is receiving this kind of glowing feedback, how is it that some kids end up playing a lot whereas others are on the bench?

That’s a real dilemma. And invariably, it leads parents to wonder what’s going on. As in, “if my kid so good, why is he not starting?”

Good question. And most coaches can’t answer that.

Lost in this shuffle is the element of adversity. The vast majority of parents instinctively tend to shield their kids from adversity – to keep them protected from the cold, cruel world. But in the world of sports, such protection isn’t always the right thing. And it doesn’t help when the coach keeps heaping glowing praise on the kid.

Adversity is a major part of ANY athlete’s experience. Ask any top pro or college star and they were all tell you that they faced some sort of adversity in their career that they had to overcome. It’s just the way it is in sports.

A NEW WAY TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK?

Ian Goldberg, who has two young daughters who play softball and soccer, started to think about the feedback process. He was so moved by the lack of real and meaningful feedback at the youth level that he developed an online program (which is free) to aid and assistant youth coaches in giving real feedback to kids.

In effect, it’s similar to a report card from school. But the key is that, depending on the sport and the athlete’s age, the coach provide true observations on a kid’s progress, i.e. needs to learn how to control the  soccer ball effectively with both feet, needs to see the entire field better in terms of passing, etc. By pinpointing both the strengths as well as weaknesses, the youngster gets a much better feel as to what they need to work on.

Ian also points out that for travel team tryouts, it would be extremely helpful if the coaches posted precise criteria on their website as well. Just saying “We’re going to select the best athletes from the kids who try out” doesn’t do much to help alleviate the pressure on kids and parents. By being specific as to what they’re looking for can only help.

In any event, if you’d like to find out more, check out iSport360.com. Be sure to look for the app to get you going on your critiques.