A players ability to deal with feedback both positive and critical can have an enormous impact on their performance not only in the immediate future, for example, the next session, but also long term.
Each player will take feedback in a different way and they do so in the way they translate the message that comes from the coach but also in the way they then put it, or not put it, in to action.
Many a coach will have seen the eyes of a player roll as they provide some feedback and know that that player isn't really giving any credibility to that feedback. Maybe the player knows better.
To the other extreme hopefully all coaches have had that player that gives them their total attention as they take every bit of information in and process it, follow it up with questions and invest themselves in the process of working on the feedback. And then there is every player in between.
Players react in these vastly different ways due to a number of reasons.
1 The Know-It-All. This is the player who has potentially been told their entire life (mainly by their parents) that they are the best and they don't make mistakes. It is always someone else's fault. They will have a fixed mindset that lacks self-awareness, they see any feedback to improve as a threat to their reputation or standing so they don't want it or appreciate it. They may even tend to listen more to their parent(s) than their coach, and I would suggest may not be the greatest team player under pressure. Dealing with a player like this is difficult at times and patience is usually needed because you may need to wait until they start to detach themselves from their parents and see the world through a more accurate lens. You may need to work hard to create greater self-awareness highlighting scenarios where they play their best having executed a technique or tactic that you have taught them. It can be valuable to use their peers to help get the message across as they may see them less as a threat.
2 The Sponge. This is the player any coach loves to coach. They are diligent in their work because they may not have the 'natural talent' of other players or they find it harder to understand or pick up techniques or concepts and have realised the only way they can be as good or better than other players is to get everything out of every learning situation. They may be a rugby tragic and have grown up with the game or fell in love with it and so thrive on any detail that could make them better. They may simply be extremely competitive with a growth mindset and always want to be the best so they suck up any information they can get. Either way they will listen, ask questions, and process information. To coach these players is a pleasure but it also has a great responsibility because they may tend to be easily guided and miss opportunities to problem solve themselves and end up being coach reliant when they need to be self reliant.
3 The Perfectionist. This is the player who is very hard on themselves and will always find fault in most situations. This can have a dramatic effect on their self esteem and confidence. They need everything to work perfectly and when it doesn't they will create negative emotions about themselves and easily see themselves as a failure. It is important to consistently reinforce that in rugby it is rarely perfect and that a great performance doesn't have to be pretty. Making them realise the huge number of variables in each situation of a rugby match can have an impact but it doesn't mean a starter play, or skill execution isn't good enough to get a result if it isn't perfect. They will tend to need concrete evidence that their effort had a positive impact and it is a good strategy to provide more positive outcomes during analysis than negative ones. The negative ones need to incorporate positive elements even if the outcome wasn't what they wanted.
4 The Talent-Waster. This is the player who has the capability to execute skills well, pick up concepts easily, develop physically seemingly with less work. They may be gifted genetically and haven't really had to work hard in their younger years because they were the biggest or fastest. These players can be frustrating because as a coach you may see huge potential in them but they either don't seem to care or have created a laissez faire attitude to their development. As a result you may not feel your feedback has any impact. The secret here is to find out what makes them compete and then provide that attitude or environment for them. Find the button that makes them want to win and you will usually find the motivator to help them reach their potential. The tough part is finding that trigger, and you will only do that by getting to know the player really well.
5 The Dumby. I don't mean this in a nasty way, but there will always be at least one player who just struggles understanding techniques or concepts. This is one of the best challenges for a coach because it is your job to work out how best they learn and then to make sure you cater for them. They can't help that they are slow at picking up concepts, but you can help how you teach them. Be patient when providing feedback because it may not sink in the first time, or second time, but knowing their learning style and persevering will help you get there in the end, and they will tend to pay you back with loyalty because they will recognise the effort you have made.
A fundamental principle of giving effective feedback is to know the type of person you are giving the feedback to. With a little research, a solid relationship and effort you can establish how you will best provide the feedback to each player, and that will pay dividends because you will maximise their development, and allow them to add value to the team. You will also not waste time trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
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