Providing individual player feedback

During my second season coaching at Exeter I surveyed the members of the women’s university team I coach a couple days before they went on the holiday break. Most of them replied (it was anonymous and done online), and there was a good bit of interesting feedback. One of the things that came up a few times was the desire for me to provide more individual player feedback. It’s something I addressed in my meeting with the team before training on early in the next term (keeping in mind that in England the season is basically the full academic year).

It has been my experience with female players that they tend to want more specific feedback than to male players – “What am I doing wrong?” – so the fact that it came up isn’t a shock. Even more so because my focus has been on higher level things. As I mentioned in the Log entries for that team, I’d really been working hard on developing confidence and aggressiveness in the team as a whole, so my attention hadn’t been as player-specific. This isn’t to say I didn’t provided feedback along the way, because I did. It’s just that my concentration was team for the most part, so there’s another reason I wasn’t surprised there’d been a call for a bit more 1-on-1 stuff.

In my team talk I discussed with the players how my focus had been on the bigger picture, but that I would work to provide more specific feedback when possible. That said, I also told them it’s not my way to constantly be in their ear. I will only talk with a player about something if I see either an egregious issue or the same mistake being repeated. I told the players I didn’t want them fixated on every single little mistake either. If there’s a pattern, then certainly it should be addressed, but everyone makes mistakes here and there. I didn’t want them thinking they can’t do anything right either from their own internal perspective or because I’m constantly pointing out their errors.

I actually had an experience when I was coaching at Brown where some of the players swore I only saw it when they made mistakes. This is a bit of a risk of this sort of thing in coaching. Any of us who have a technical leaning tend to focus more on fixing mistakes than acknowledging good performance. Obviously, we can’t go around saying “good job” every single time a player executes a skill properly, but we do need to mix that sort of thing in now and again. This can have significant benefits to how players perform and your ability to keep them progressing – especially in players who are approval seekers.

Just some things worth thinking about.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.


  1. Now you hit my favorite topic ;-). School. I deeply believe that what you outlined in this post is a consequence of how school works in the western world and probably all over the world. School is about doing what an “expert” (teacher) want’s you to do when, were and how he is telling you. And if you are doing good it is for the teacher to tell you so. School creates a dependency for positive and negative feedback. It is more or less about not doing a single step without the guidance of a teacher. 12 years we are learning that your own satisfaction with what you are doing is worth nothing. There is always someone who is telling you if you were doing good or not. And he or she is the only thing that counts.

    In sports we coaches (not every coach, but some) suddenly ask them to work self motivated (I had a national beach player on my indoor team who asked me once to kick his butt because that would be the only way for him to pick up more energy towards the game) and drop dependence of permanent feedback (positive or negative). It’s simply a hard work to give back self motivation and self confidence to young players. We have to work against what school is doing…

  2. John Forman John Forman says:

    Oliver – I definitely don’t disagree with your observation. I would suggest, however, that at least in terms of competitive sports we do tend to attract those who are a bit more self-motivated than the rest.

    The sort of funny thing that occurs to me is that the whole right/wrong thing applies to coaches as well. Many look to understand the one way to teach passing or hitting or whatever when the reality is that there are many right answers.

    • I agree. It always can be worse 🙂 About your second remark. That’s exactly what I observe with other coaches and unfortunately with myself from time to time. Which annoys me because I do know it better…

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