Not long ago a mate and I were bored at a convention and took a stroll in the quest for a pick-me-up coffee.
Near the entrance was a coffee stand, a mobile outlet that had been quite busy earlier that day. After placing our order, we struck up a conversation with the young, confident barista.
He told us about his coffee, the business he was working for and why he rated the coffees he made as ‘close to perfect as you can get.’
The business supplied these mobile coffee outlets to conventions, expos, conferences and sporting events – anywhere there’d be an influx of people for a short amount of time.
Over the previous several years he estimated that, since he made around 400 coffees per day and worked five to six days a week, he’d mastered the ‘art of coffee’.
Our tastebuds suggested otherwise – the coffee tasted burnt, as did the milk, and it was way too hot. In fact, it was so bad I threw it away.
How could this be? How could someone with all his experience make such bad coffee?
I don’t profess to know the answer but I have given it some thought. One suggestion is the lack of feedback he receives.
As compared to a stationary coffee shop, he’d never notice the drop in customers or a lack of ‘regulars’; and most of the customers he does have are transient and in a rush – too busy to make a complaint or suggestion.
In other words, his ‘experience’ in the pursuit to make a good coffee, with no feedback, was meaningless.
Feedback is essential to growth.
Whether we are discussing evolution, behavioural change or coaching, we rely on feedback mechanisms to improve and develop.
With this in mind I thought I’d share the six types of feedback I use in my coaching and in my programs.
Objective and Subjective
As I am primarily a Physical Performance Coach, objective feedback is fairly easy to collate.
Bench press scores, vertical jump heights, endurance test times, body weight… (For young athletes, here are some ideas on what to ‘track’). These are all easy to measure and record.
They give me some indication as to whether the program is working for the athlete.
The downside of objective feedback is that many of us confuse ‘ease to measure’ with ‘value’ – and it’s important to remember that just because it measurable doesn’t mean it’s meaningful.
(We also need to get better at understanding ‘correlation’, ‘causation’, and ‘transfer’.)
Objective feedback is usually clean, easy to understand, track and share.
On the other hand, subjective data is ‘messy’ – it requires more interpretation.
But this doesn’t mean it’s less useful.
Asking your athletes how they’re feeling is the simplest form of subjective feedback and can be more significant than any number your recorded in the gym.
Subjective feedback also includes observation. For example, taking note how your athletes enter your training facility (slow and tired or bounding with energy?) or watching how your athletes move in the warm up (crisply of sloppily?).
Make sure you use both types of feedback, objective and subjective.
Structured and Unstructured
I define structured feedback as something that is planned, giving those involved time to collect information and arrive prepared.
While it is becoming more clear that the corporate-style performance analysis conducted once a year is even less valuable than we realised, there are some benefits to this type feedback if organised correctly.
The simple act of planning to meet up forces us to reflect, analyse and seek to improve our programs – a valuable tool in itself.
In sports, there are certain times of the competition calendar that lend themselves to being better for scheduling structured feedback sessions:
- Mid-preseason – What can we modify for the rest of the preseason?
- End of preseason – What should we change for next preseason?
- Before a bye – Do we need to change anything?
- At the half-way mark of the season – What’s working? What’s not?
- Before the finals series – A stocktake before before the bolts tighten.
- At the end of the season – A big review with all the information.
Some of the above-mentioned times allow the decision makers to change course on the go; others are better placed to improve the following season.
Unstructured feedback is more likely to occur on-the-run.
It often ensues after a training session, in the corridor or around the proverbial water cooler.
It can be as simple as ‘what did you think of that session/game/drill/competition?’
The feedback is less likely to be factually correct, often more emotionally tainted.
This doesn’t mean it’s less valuable, just that it’s important to understand where it is coming from.
Make sure you use both types of feedback, structured and unstructured.
External and Internal
Just the other day I asked High Performance Coach, Lachlan Penfold, to see the facility I am training my athletes out of and to give me some feedback on where I can improve things.
This is an example of external feedback.
Being ‘external’ meant Lachie could offer fresh ideas without being clouded by the history of the facility, the politics, budget constraints, emotional attachments to pieces of equipment or space, or any potential bias I’d accumulated.
In other words, it’s untainted.
(His assessment proved spot-on and I have implemented most of his ideas.)
Internal feedback is that which comes from within – within your club, team, organisation or association. It can come from your athletes, your assistants or the decision makers.
The views expressed will most likely have a better understanding of the nuances of what you are trying to achieve and how far you might have progressed (or regressed).
They will possibly be emotionally charged, especially if they care.
Again, this is neither good nor bad, but imperative to acknowledge.
Internal feedback might be less honest as the people giving it might want to spare your feelings or their position.
Make sure you use both types of feedback, external and internal.
As a young coach, when I developed this little system it evolved to the point where I had identified all eight categories (Subjective–Structured-External; Subjective-Structured-Internal; Objective-Structured-External; Objective-Structured-Internal; etc.) and meticulously sought each type of feedback in a season.
It was over-complicated and time consuming. I probably spent more time collecting the feedback than I did implementing any of it.
Now, I ensure there are pathways to collect each type, scheduled times for the Structured, coffees and lunches set aside for the External and can spend more time on actually coaching.
The astute coach will notice that:
- No form of feedback is always better than another. For example, an over-reliance on the data collected in the gym – (“Well, all their numbers are going up!”) might hinder one’s ability to see the big picture (“Sure, but it looks like they’re moving terribly!”).
- There is an optimal amount of feedback. The graph for optimal feedback would be an inverted-U shape, and most of us are probably too far left on the x-axis. Too much feedback (data hoarding) isn’t going to help either.
- Feedback without action is feedback in itself. Either you think you’re too good or you need to change your feedback sources.
- There is an art to giving, and receiving, feedback. But that is for another article.
If you happen to know the barista mentioned in the beginning please pass this onto him… He might need the feedback.