Feedback: Sometimes, Less is more

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Feedback provides information to the participants to assist them to improve their game. It is an important tool that coaches should look to use as effectively as possible. In a previous article, (Learning vs Performance) I mentioned that maximising learning is important in delivering great coaching for beginner standard players. Those who focus on learning instead of performance have a better impact on a player’s development than those who do not. If this is the case, then how can we use feedback to maximise the learning of the participant.

A majority of feedback that coaches give comes in the form of corrective statements. “Corrective statements… contain information that specifically aim to improve the players(s) performance at the next skill attempt (can be delivered concurrently or post)” (Cushion et al, 2012). Corrective statements are a good way of improving performance. But, how many times do coaches tell a player to perform an action in a certain way and they do it for a short while and they end up repeating themselves? This is an indicator that they haven’t learnt the skill. They have not retained the performance they displayed immediately after the feedback was given.

Some research has suggested that too much feedback and instruction results in performance that does not stick. Smith & Cushion (2006) looked at top-level youth soccer coaches and stated; “If you’re talking all the time and giving instructions all the time, you’re probably operating on a more superficial level, it just becomes noise” (Smith & Cushion, 2006). Feedback during a session should be kept to short, sharp, incredibly specific nuggets of information; instead of long, drawn out explanations after every rally. This will prevent an information overload and will allow the player to process the information easier.

There is also some evidence to suggest providing little feedback could increase learning. Improvements are made through controlling the parameters of the exercise so that the players are guided into performing different areas of the game under match realistic conditions. The constraints led-approach requires the coach to constrain the practice to an appropriate level of difficulty by taking into consideration the variables that impact the players. For example, a coach might restrict the playing area to only the backhand half of the table to put emphasis on the ‘crossover’ between the backhand and forehand strokes. Playing a match in this way will somewhat replicate the tactics and pressure that occur in a match around one particular area the game.

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The coach should consider that learning doesn’t happen gradually and in a systematic way. The learning environment should be holistic and encompass variables that occur in matches. The players may experience some perceptual overload as the games and practices are more complex. However, this will challenge the players to make more creative and sound decisions. If the coaching program is a success, the players will understand how to control variables in a match situation and the links between different skills. The diminished levels of feedback will promote autonomy and encourage learning that is more likely to be retained.

References

Cushion, C., Harvey, S., Muir, B., & Nelson, L. (2012), Developing the Coach Analysis and Intervention System (CAIS): Establishing Validity and Reliability of a Computerised Systematic Observation Instrument. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30(2), pp.203-218

Smith, M., & Christopher J. Cushion, C.J. (2006). An investigation of the in-game behaviours of professional, top-level youth soccer coaches, Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(4), pp.355-366

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