Traits of Great Coaches (Part 3)
3. Constant and correct feedback
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
– Bill Gates
This is the single area of coaching that pushed me to start working on my e-book. A lot of coaches give some feedback but it is frequently generic if positive or incorrect or incomplete if negative. There is absolutely nothing wrong with complimenting and cheering your student on, but just as importantly, if not more importantly, they should know what exactly they did right during that swing. I found that helping them connect the dots works really well. For example, I like to say, “That shot was awesome,” and then add, “Look how early you took that ball! Let’s try to do that every time. You can do it!” That’s the kind of feedback I find the most helpful to my students. It helps them develop the right database of possible mistakes in their mind for that particular shot, which will help them to know and later fix those errors. The bottom line is, a truly great coach will equip you to effectively self-coach and to find the proper way to correct your mistakes. Not that you will never need a coach, but realistically your coach won’t be there every time you play and you need to be good at self-detecting and even fixing your mistakes on the fly. If you know exactly what you are doing and where your mistakes are, you are better equipped to maintain the proper form you’ve been working on, thus always advancing your progress forward and not forced to go back and forth because you are picking up bad habits when your coach is not around.
Now let’s move on to negative or corrective feedback. The most important thing here is that it has to be detailed and clear to the student. They have to perfectly understand what the coach is trying to make them do and why. All of this has to be in line with the proper stroke fundamentals that we discussed earlier. It’s very important that the student knows proper form as well as his/her most frequent mistakes and their consequences. Feedback such as, “Bend your knees,” “Don’t hit into the net,” or, “Don’t miss that ball,” is way too generic and don’t tell a student anything about the root cause of the error he or she is making. The same can be said about training tactics and strategy.
Practical advice to parents: Watch a lesson and see if the coach gives feedback to your child. It has to be consistent, and by that I mean every single shot or very close to that. Your kid should be learning what to do and what not to do after every single ball they hit; that’s how they are going to get better and learn the ins and outs of tehnika (technique), which, later, will help them read the opponent and thus have an enormous advantage over him/her.