What do I say now? A coaches guide to effective feedback

As a coach, there’s a million bits of feedback you can give when a player makes a mistake – bad luck (unimaginative and is it really down to luck?), don’t do this (but I already did it so what can I do about it now?) or something worse (“miss this one and you’re running laps/doing pushups”).
I fed the ball to the pupil’s backhand and she missed it into the net, so I fed another one and she missed it long. But only just long. The technique was sound, with nice early preparation and her racquet back early (‘beat the bounce’), a strong grip and follow-through with the racquet finishing high over the shoulder. Very professional in fact.
But she had missed both. I said nothing, trying to come up with the most appropriate response. Something that would say, it doesn’t matter that you missed them because I know you’ll eventually get it. Just keep working at it, don’t give up, hang in there, and you’ll get there. Something that said REWARD FOR EFFORT.
Which brings us to the Growth Mindset.
Carol Dweck, author of “Mindset – The New Psychology of Success” summed it up with the following – “Challenges are exciting rather than threatening, So rather than thinking oh I’m going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here’s a chance to grow.”
In tennis, just substitute “backhand” for “weaknesses” and you’d pretty much have the right idea.
In her book, I particularly liked Dweck’s reference to famed American basketball coach John Wooden, whose quote “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better” was a vivid contrast to the chair-throwing antics (and ‘fixed mindset’) of Bobby Knight.
That to me is what coaching is all about – just chipping away bit by bit to improving, developing and becoming that little bit better.
I have seen many club players improve and get better, in the process surprising themselves, by working on their game and being convinced that yes, every time you are on the court, you can improve something. The YouTube video of the 100-year-old player volleying against the wall? Now that’s growth mindset.
Which brings me to the question that is asked by athletes in every sport all over the world – “Coach, do you think I’ll make it?”
Well, does any coach know for sure? What does ‘making it’ even mean? Does it mean cracking the top 500, the 100, the top 50? How many tennis players are there in the world anyway?
What about being pleasantly surprised with how much you can improve? Does that count as ‘making it’? Or beating someone you never thought you would?
As somebody who knows first hand how difficult it is to make it to the professional level (and how tough and competitive the US college circuit is), I don’t think a coach can really say for certain.
It’s up to the player to keep believing in themselves, to keep improving each day, to learn from their mistakes, to have the kind of mindset that will not only enable them to bounce back from losses, but also help them achieve success later in life. A growth mindset.

 So the response that I came up with?

“It doesn’t matter, she’ll get this one.”

And guess what – she did!

Shane Scrutton

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About the Author : shaneYarraTennis